“Ding-Ding” the alarm clock started beeping, “Ding-Ding”. “Yes, yes, getting up…,” I murmured. I lazily got up to ready myself, took a bite of toast and eggs for breakfast, and finally got inside my study, locked myself in and settled down for a busy day. I was completely absorbed in a very serious and interesting article when suddenly the doorbell started ringing in an abruptly loud volume which almost knocked me off the chair.
“Who can it be?” I thought as I glanced at the watch and went to open the door. “Nobody is supposed to come now. Oh… maybe it’s my neighbour Mrs Baker. I’m not at all in the mood to chat the whole morning. I do have a lot of work.” But it was not Mrs Baker. Instead it was a lady with wavy bubbly locks whom I didn’t recognise at all. She looked rather nervous and confused but she had somewhat an alluring smiling face with an easy going demeanour. I spotted a flight tag attached to her handbag hinting that she might be coming from someplace far away.
“Good Morning,” I said, “How can I help you?”
“Good morning. I’m very sorry but I just wanted to know if this is the Francis’ Residence.”
“Francis’ Residence, why?”
“I was just wondering if I could meet Julie Francis.”
“What do you want with Julie Francis?”
“I was a friend of hers and… wanted to meet her.”
“What’s your name please?”
“I’m Alicia George.”
“Alicia … well… yes, Julie lives here. With me. We’re… friends. But she is not at home at present. She is away on official work.”
“Oh… so when is she going to return?”
“I don’t know actually…um,” I tried to slowly close the door.
“If you don’t mind can I wait till she comes?”
Her request put me in a spot. Should I allow her to be in? I had decided to say no.
“Well, fine, come in,” I blurted.
“Thank you,” and she got inside the house.
“Sit down,” I invited her to sit on the sofa.
“Um…so…tea?” as a mere gesture.
“If you don’t mind,” she smiled.
I went to the kitchen to make some tea and when I returned I saw her strolling around the living room looking at the wall decorated with photographs. Spotting me, she hurriedly sat down.
“Thanks a lot,” said Alicia, “Ah, its lemongrass, right?”
“I’m sure, this is Julie’s recipe,” Alicia said with a grin. “You know, Julie had a crush for lemongrass since childhood. In our school garden, once there grew a bunch of lemongrass. I smuggled in some for Julie. We were just kids. And I was caught, of course. When I was about to be punished, Julie stood up and claimed that she was involved in the mischief too. And we both were punished,” Alicia smiled and said, “We were very close friends, very close in our school days.”
“How did you know that Julie lives here now?” I said, letting her know that her friend shifted here several summers back.
“I searched her everywhere. I did not find her on social media. Then as luck would have it, I bumped on Pamela, a common school friend, and got Julie’s address. Do you know Pamela?” Alicia asked.
“No,” I denied.
“You and Julie are good friends, aren’t you?” Alicia said.
“Oh…yes. Of course we are. But that does not mean she would have to tell me about all her friends,” was my curt answer.
“When is Julie expected to return?”
“May be by afternoon. Am not sure about the timing.”
“By the way, why do you want to meet Julie?”
“Actually I wanted to return her something,” she said, bringing out a lovely but old fashioned silver bracelet from her handbag.
“Oh, you know about it?”
“Oh…yes. She…showed me her childhood pictures with this. She showed me many pictures of her childhood. One with all her friends standing around her. That one,” I said pointing towards a framed photograph on the wall.
“Yes. I do remember that picture,” she said and went in sort of a reverie and then smiled, “So many stories we had in our school days. That picture has a story too. See that girl in between. With curly hair. She is Lucy…” Alicia had gone deep in her thoughts. “Well, we had a photoshoot that day. We were all ready when everyone noticed that Julie was not there. Everyone started searching for her but I was the one who found her sitting in the park all alone… she had hurt herself and got a cut on the leg. I bandaged her leg with my hanky, the one which I was my most favourite. We were twelve at that time. Don’t know if Julie remembers these stories.”
“I think she does.”
“Maybe… What exactly did she tell you about the bracelet,” Alicia asked in a hesitant tone.
I smiled back without saying anything further. We sat silently for quite some time. The silence was loud.
“We had an argument, you know,” Alicia spoke up. “It was just before her father got transferred. There was a bit of misunderstanding… about this bracelet. It was lost. She thought it was stolen…and she blamed me for it. But it was another girl in our class, Ria. Ria set me up. She had stolen it and kept it in my bag. She was actually jealous of our friendship. If I tried to explain that, no one would have believed me. The incident made mine and Julie’s friendship really bitter. We were not in touch since then… And soon after they got transferred,” she sighed. “I want her to know the truth. And of course, I wanted to return it to her.”
There was a long and awkward pause.
“I’m really sorry. I never thought…I mean for your unfortunate incident.”
“Oh, it’s ok.”
“You should have called Julie, written to her. Why didn’t you?”
Alicia looked up. “Do you think she would have responded?”
“Oh yes. Of course. After all her best friend was calling or writing to her. Why wouldn’t she respond?”
“Well, I thought it would have been better if I came to her physically. You see, Julie kept a connection with all her good friends except me.”
I went to the kitchen feeling completely blank. I was feeling so awkward. Why did I never…? How could I ever…? I was so absorbed in my own thoughts that I forgot about the time. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me. I turned back to see Alicia standing.
“Um…are you okay?”
“Oh yeah…um…you want something?”
“I was just searching for some water.”
“Oh sure. On the table.”
But I couldn’t meet her eyes. At a loss, I looked at my watch, “It’s lunchtime. Please join me,” I said.
“Oh don’t worry yourself about that,” said Alicia.
“It’s just a matter of 15 minutes. I’ll just have to put the bread pudding in the oven.”
“Bread Pudding? I love it. With a bit of…”
“Vanilla ice-cream topping.”
“Yes! And some…”
Alicia looked up curiously.
“Um…it’s Julie’s recipe.”
After lunch, Alicia told me, “Um…it’s two already. My flight is due at four-thirty. God…I didn’t even pause to ask your name, so engrossed in talking.”
“Am Jul…I mean…Margaret …Margaret Summers.”
“Well… Margaret…give this bracelet to Julie and tell her the story I told you. I’m afraid I can’t wait anymore. Thank you…a lot for your hospitality.”
“You are leaving already? Wait a little more.”
“Oh…no. I’ll be late for my flight. I’ll call her. Hope she would take my call. This is my number. What’s yours…I mean…hers,” she handed me a visiting card.
“Um…here,” and handed her a chit after scribbling the number hurriedly.
“Thanks a lot. You keep her number memorised I see.”
“Well I hope we shall meet again. If I come by here again. Maybe I’ll see Julie too.”
“My cab’s due at any moment,” she said and soon a car honking was heard.
I led her outside and we shook hands.
“Thank you. Thank you for everything… the lemongrass and the bread pudding.” She got up on the cab and paused and then looked back. “I’ll be able to get the monkey off my back now,” she said and then paused, “Bye Julie. I had a lovely day, Jul,” she said and smiled at me.
I was astonished. Had she recognized me? Yes, of course. After all, she was my best friend.
“Bye Lizzy,” I said returning her smile.
And then I stood there as I saw her car driving away and away and then becoming a spot on the distance. But I’ll never be able to forget that day when the fog cleared between me and my best friend Alicia.