JENNA had made them angry again. Suddenly there was silence as they all shot her a furious look. A strand of hair flung across her face, her eyes dripping of arrogance. A dab of blue ink made an erratic shape near the front pocket of her white shirt. As she looked down at her canvas shoes, her two ponytails made an awkward bent. She was pulling at the loosely hung grey tie now.
“You are sixteen for heaven’s sake. Teens don’t go home right after school. They hang out, have fun, go to movies and……” said one. “I have to be home by 2.30. It’s important,” she said. Friendship is beyond reason. Yet often how hard it is to speak your mind to friends, she thought.
“Don’t tell me you have a date with your nanny,” remarked another triggering a jeer. Jake wasn’t laughing. He looked at her gravely. Too many defeated arguments prevented another attempt, however.
“Alright guys, leave her alone. By the way, does anyone care at all that I am not coming to the park either?,” Jake made them serious for a second. They all laughed and started cycling. Jenna gave him a grateful smile.
It was 2 now. It would take her 20 minutes to get home by her bicycle. She waved her friends for the last time before turning. She was excited as always. A memory from years ago, visited her. She was five back then. The moment the auto-rickshaw stopped before her house, she would hop out, fling the gate open and would be in her mother’s arms in seconds. She would chatter endlessly. Teacher liked my handwriting today. I won the race. Neha peed in her frock. I completed the class work before everyone. After a long time, she would give her mother a last hug and they both would walk inside the house hand in hand.
‘Trin trin’ she pushed the cycle bell in excitement. She was anxious to make another such memory. Suddenly, there they stood. She regretted having picked up an argument earlier at the playground that day.
“No way. Not now!” she sighed. They looked angry. “Wait up missy. You can’t get away with this,” said a boy almost knocking her with his cycle. “Guys, we will talk about it tomorrow okay. You are taking a team argument too far. I am in a bit of a hurry,” she tried.
“Hey just because you are the Head Girl you think you can slight us?” demanded another boy.
“No I didn’t mean that. Look, it was a unanimous decision of the student body. I was only conveying it. I can take your issue up tomorrow with the school captain if you want,” she tried to pacify him.
But soon the guys surrounded her. After almost ten minutes of heated arguments, one of the guys pushed her. She fell down in an instant as her head thumped on a rock. She was bleeding now. She heard a loud burst of laughter as the boys rode away.
“Hey what the hell? Jenna!!!!!” Jake appeared from nowhere, left his bicycle on the road and ran towards her.
“I am fine Jake, no worries. I have to get home.” She managed to get up. There was blood all over her face.
“Look at you Jenna. Let’s go get you a dressing first,” he insisted.
“No I promise I will get it dressed at home. Miss DeCosta shall do it for me,” replied Jenna.
“What is with you girl?” said Jake as he poured the water bottle on her wound. But Jenna wouldn’t budge. So Jake insisted on accompanying her home to ensure she was safe. After a few minutes of cycling, Jake noticed Jenna checking her watch. She seemed to have completely forgotten about the scratch on her forehead. And just like that, she was gone, striding away.
“Hell I am late. Miss Decosta!” she shouted the moment she got home. The nanny ran out, startled to see the blood on her face. “Oh my God! Are you alright my child?” Miss Decosta started wiping Jenna’s face with her scarf.
Jenna glanced at her watch in despair. It was 2.40 pm. “Hell. No, no, no!” She hurried inside but was stopped by Miss Decosta. She heard a familiar voice from the gate. “Jenna!” She turned around and ran towards the voice.
Inches away in the bushes, Jake almost started but checked himself. He leaned on his bike and tried to make sense of what was happening.
In an instant Jenna gathered him in his arms. She felt his tiny hands at the back of her head as she bent down to hug her six-year old brother Timmy. In the next few minutes, she patiently heard. The rick guy was late today Jenna. Teacher gave me five on five in Math test! Karim pushed me in the playground. Look, I got a wound! But before he gave her his signature last hug, he noticed her face. “Why are you crying Jenna? What happened to your face?”
“Oh nothing. A very mean guy pushed me today,” she said remembering her promise to never lie to him. “So was he like Karim? And didn’t you hit him back? Can I hit him for you Jenna?…….”. Jenna just hugged him tightly, thankful. Timmy would never miss this hug, she told herself. He would always know that he had someone to go to, someone anxious to give him a warm hug, someone who would listen to his chatter. And that someone would always be on time, she promised herself.
Jake had watery eyes by now. He recalled each time Jenna had refused to go for a movie or a volleyball match or a play rehearsal. She even missed the seniors’ farewell last year. He had met a new Jenna today. After waving to Miss DeCosta, he strode away. As he pedaled his bike, he realized there was no one waiting for him at home. Both his parents had careers. But Jenna’s mother, she had started working when Jenna’s dad died.
A picture kept flashing before his eyes. A picture of Jenna and Timmy across the window. She feeding him through a spoon, he wiping her tears.
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