Aranya is lying on the grass, alone and tired from running. She looks different, bleached hair spreading like a shield. I almost can't recognize her with her eyes closed, forest green orbs hidden behind soft lashes.
Then you find her.
She tells you to go away, but you don't. Putting your guitar down first, you lie beside her and tell her that she is crying like it is the simplest thing to do. She lifts a hand to her cheek, greeting the dampness on her skin.
Two girls stay for long moments, staring at the sky. It is blue and beautiful like strings of a thousand forget-me-nots. The sun hugs the trees with its strong arms, and the songbirds sing. There is no reason for a girl to be weeping on such a day.
"I'm Viola," the stranger says after what seems like forever, "Your shoestrings are untied." The notion emits a frustrated groan from the other girl as she kicks off her running shoes completely. She is still crying, tears streaming silently.
I remember how you don't think to ask for her name as if you already know her.
The stranger props her head up with one arm, dark hair falling on her face. She seems familiar, like Aranya had seen her somewhere before.
"You're hurt," she whispers, "Is that why you're crying?"
Sitting up, Aranya pulls her legs to herself. She searches her thighs and knees for bruises. It makes sense; after all, she did fall off the path. However, forest green eyes only spot minor scratches, the tiniest specks of blood already drying out. It doesn't even hurt. She shakes her head.
"I'm not hurt."
"How about there?" Viola points straight to the other girl's chest, her dark eyes gleaming with worry under the sunlight. "Does it hurt there?"
Aranya takes in a sharp breath because it does hurt there. But she shakes her head, repeating her words, "I'm not hurt."
Viola narrows her eyes in disbelief but says nothing more of the subject.
I remember you asking if she is lost, but she doesn't quite answer. Then you ask if her name is Forest, and she tells you that her name is Aranya.
You don't judge her. You just smile like a little girl who finally finds her lost teddy in a dusty attic.
"I didn't know you changed your name. It's pretty."
Aranya's green eyes seem to sparkle with recognition. She had heard that voice saying these words before. It was a long time ago, but she remembers.
The playground. Cotton candy. Red hair.
"You're the girl." The words escape Aranya before she can stop herself.
I remember how you don't say anything and just pull out your guitar. Grinning at Aranya, you ask her,
"Do you still sing?"
Viola doesn't wait for an answer as delicate fingers pluck the strings, sounding prettier than anything Aranya has heard in her life. The song is familiar, so familiar like Viola's hair, nose, eyes.
Viola, Viola, Viola
Aranya plays the name in her mind, twisting it in the corners of her mouth, rolling it with the very tip of her tongue.
All at once, Viola starts singing, and Aranya is sure she had heard the name before. It sounds almost like your name.
"I know it's not so fun without the whole band, but…" Viola doesn't finish her sentence as the second verse comes, and her voice switches back to song.
Are you shopping anywhere?
Change the color of your hair
And are you busy?
It is as if the questions are directed to me, not Aranya, and I remember almost answering 'Yes, I did change the color of my hair. No, I have no idea what I'm doing with my life, and it hurts so badly'.
But Aranya is the one sitting with you, and she refuses to budge no matter how hard I try.
I remember how you never take your eyes off her, waiting for her to join in. Your dark eyes smile, and your voice dances with the wind like a string of hope urging the girl to hold on to you. But Aranya is only half-listening, head fogged with the sweetness of cotton candy from years and years ago.
The playground. Cotton candy. Redhair.
And I miss your ginger hair
And the way you like to dress
Viola smiles through the lyrics as Aranya touches her golden hair, untangling the bleached stings, corroded red now white as platinum. Something inside her wakes with a stir. Memories light up like strings of fairy lights working their magic. Aranya remembers you first, then herself.
And I remember me.
Viola and Forest
I play our names in my mind, twisting them in the corners of my mouth, rolling them with the very tip of my tongue.
You were that little girl. That little girl running after Mr. Brown for his famous cotton candy. That little girl who fell mid-way, scratching her knees on cobblestones.
Here, have mine.
The words I had spoken to you before thrusting the fluffy sweet in your hands. I ran after him. Wait for me! Can I have one more, please?! I went as fast as my small feet were willing to take me. It was enough. Once I had my cotton candy, I came back to you. I always come back to you.
My name's Forest. Are you hurt?
The little girl shook her head, pigtails waving like dark ribbons. I'm Viola.
Viola's fingers work the strings, waiting, hoping, wishing for Aranya to let out the faintest sound. But Aranya just sits there, unable to comprehend the string of thoughts swimming in her head.
"Does it still hurt?" Viola says, stilling her hands, throwing the rest of the song in the air like it is nothing.
Aranya blinks as she tries to feel the pain in her chest, but it is simply not there. She feels herself fading with the string of names she had fashioned for herself, with the rainbow of dye she had chosen to bite away her copper-red hair.
Everything fades until there is only us with your guitar under the blue sky. And I realize that you have been talking to me the whole time, not Aranya.
"You still remember my name?" I ask.
"No, my other name, Forest."
You smile the prettiest of smiles and tell me that you remember everything. The playground. Cotton candy. Red hair. Us.
And now I remember too.
You never ask why I changed. Maybe it is because you know, or maybe it is because I haven't really changed at all. Maybe I am Aranya with shimmers in silver flowing locks, or maybe I am still Forest with cotton candy stuck in red hair. Whatever the case, I am me. And for some miraculous reason, you seem to be happy with just that.
"Do you still sing?"
I feel myself nodding, and you start the song once more. It is the same not-so-fun-without-the-whole-band song, and I realize how different it sounds without the drums and trumpets. The rhythm seems almost slower, and whatever zest that comes with the brass horns melts away, replaced by the soft picking of your guitar. But it is the same song still, no matter the names or instruments that are thrown into it.
I count the beats in my head,
Breathing in on one,
Breathing out on four,
Any moment now…
And then, precisely when my mouth opens to sing, you shift your gaze from your guitar to me. Our eyes lock, creating a strange yet familiar sensation like the smell of brewing tea leaves in hot chocolate. I feel the words running, drifting, flowing away from my lips. A massive landslide. At that moment, I don't think about how pretty your name sounds in my mind, or how beautiful you look in the sunlight. I just think about you.
Your brown eyes sparkle, lips curing into a smile. All at once, we are laughing, cheeks aching from reasons we can't quite grasp. It may be from the dimples pinching too deep in our cheeks, or from lips stretching to greet our eyes, or maybe six strings strummed out more than simple chords, making us remember something with strings of a completely different kind.
We stay like that for a while, happy just to rediscover each other's existence.
I remember the sky, blue and beautiful like strings of a thousand forget-me-nots, and I hope I will not forget.
The playground. Cotton candy. Redhair.
But if I ever do, I hope you find me over and over again until all my names spin into one like swirls of cotton candy melting between your lips. And when you do, I will know it. I might not remember your name and how perfectly it fits my tongue. I might not remember the rasp in your sultry voice or the jazz in your guitar. I might not remember your beautiful eyes or your pretty little nose. But if there is one thing I am sure to remember in this big lonely universe, it is you.
And for some miraculous reason, I seem to be happy with just that.