A bed of her own
Angeline Mary came into my life quite early. I wouldn't say 'life'. Threshold of it. Like in class photos. The girl who helped during school dramas to plaster yourself with cheap makeup lifted mostlty from older sister's make up kits.
She had no special friend. Like one of my friends said- Angeline Mary was everyone's friend and yet nobody’s.
Frankly, we never could believe anyone had so sweet a disposition all the time. Swapnil often would come to find her pencils sharpened when she'd kept them blunt to draw caricatures of our teachers. It was a tough task to stop Swapnil from what she threatened 'beating up' Angeline, but we were successful nevertheless.
So when she joined the same college as I, it was but natural that we huddled together on the first day while being scrutinized by fearsome seniors.
When we were allotted cots, it was but natural Angeline gave up her cot when they discovered that they were short of one. It didn't matter to whom her cot went. All that mattered to Angeline was that the shine on her halo didn't diminish.
4 years of Angeline again seemed bad. Especially when we were at a new place where familiarity meant best of friends.
I was the unlucky one to whom she 'gave away' her cot. This happened only because of my prolonged goodbye to mother whom I kept saying goodbye to, long after she was gone. Standing by the iron gates of the hostel, looking at an empty road with a few stray dogs and a car that stays only in front of your eyes; I was late on my first day.
That made a misplaced sense of guilt on my already guilt laden shoulders. First, I pretended to ignore her walking around with bed sheets and pillow in hand by staring studiously away. Or sometimes right through her.
But after most of the lights were turned off, I'd walk across rows of sleeping girls, looking for the lump that was Angeline. I always found her in borrowed beds. Maybe she was dreaming borrowed dreams...
Though she was later allotted a cot of her own, I'd see her walk around looking for an empty cot everyday.
For someone I thought wasn't worth thinking about, I thought a lot about Angeline. I'd see her wash her face everyday, squeezing the honey brown gel from plastic tubes of Pears. The smell of which would linger in the washed air saying, "Angeline was here".
She's wash her face every twenty minutes or so. The smell of Pears was forever.
Once over yet another late night talk, I remember someone sniffing the air and saying, "Ssshhh... Angeline is here". We'd discovered one of the sleeping forms in the room to be Angeline's, her freshly washed face making almost a glow.
In her world, in which hardly anything belonged to her, to even call her own- even a bed of her own didn't make much sense I guess.
It was the weekend when almost everybody went home. I hadn't.
When Angeline Mary walked that night with bed sheets in hand and her pillow, there was an extra bounce to her step. It was her day of choice. Not so many beds were to be chosen from everyday.
She chose the empty one near mine. I pretended to read my book… pretended to be thinking great thoughts…I was concentrating so much on pretending, that I actually started on hearing her voice.
I am not sure this happened. But it did. We talked. About school. Past ghosts of teachers. The skeleton in the biology lab which we were convinced belonged to Sr. Regina who went missing. Hangman's copse and the story that came down with it from generations of seniors. Friends. Acquaintances. Incidents. Angeline Mary knew every play I'd enacted in school. Every character that I'd exaggerated, getting into skins that weren't mine. Every story I'd recounted to open mouthed girls, drawing them closer with fabrics of fiction.
She'd held her sanity by belonging to what was dutifully others'. And she'd held it longer by not sharing her secret. She was part of a gang that excluded her. She heard words not directed at her. She played roles not given to her. And she never shared credit that wouldn't have been hers.
That night was perhaps Angeline's. And mine. Ours. To share but with ourselves.
Tomorrow was another day. We had our separate worlds. She would never be welcome in mine. And I could never belong in her borrowed world.
We didn't sleep that night. Just to share it a little longer.
I have it on my lost autograph book, that she dreamt the best dreams while lying on my bed.