It was a bright summer day near the end of May and I was sitting at my desk with my head in my hands, my physics textbook was propped open before my eyes.
The bell rang. I waited for a moment to see if my sister would open it. It seemed she wasn’t going to, because the bell rang again. I shook my head and raised myself from the chair, my legs and back feeling stiff from the three hours of sitting. Opening the door, I saw that it was my best friend, Pooja. Grinning, I let her inside.
I led Pooja to my room and offered her some water. She settled on the armchair by the window and swung her right leg over her left one. ‘So,’ she said, glancing around the room, ‘you’re working on Sunday too?’
‘NEET,’ I explained. ‘This physics is rubbish—I can’t make a thing out of it!’ I said, sitting in my chair and turning it towards her.
She shrugged. ‘Alright, I’ll wait till you’re done.’
I slammed the desk in frustration. Pooja took out her headphones and turned to me. I shot up and strode to the window. Children from my adjacent building were playing on the open ground, screaming and bouncing up and down. Two of them were chasing each other, yelling at the top of their voices. Little Mohan was zooming around on his bicycle, ringing the bell in some sort of tune.
‘What do they think they’re doing? They’re shouting like its Diwali!’ I exclaimed, irritated.
‘They’re having fun,’ Pooja explained with a smile.
‘So good! At least they should think that somebody is busier than them and has more important things than fun on their to-do list!’ I said.
‘Chill! Just finish your sum quickly; I want to show you something important.’
I shook my head and returned to my sum. I was working on derivations of formulae. I clicked my pen and bent over my notebook, trying the insistently annoying sum once more. Five minutes later, I had made some progress as my steps matched those of ‘A Guide to Physics-Standard XII’ lying beside. With some satisfaction, I continued and was just about to derive my formula when a furry ball flew in through the window out of nowhere and landed on my notebook with such force that the page tore.
‘Idiots!’ I said angrily and marched to the window in fury. ‘What is it?’ I demanded, waving the ball furiously at them.
Several of them backed a little and eyed me nervously, which made me even angrier. ‘W-we were just playing,’ said Richa in such a small voice, I doubt even Rohan, who was next to her, could have heard it. I had just read her lips.
‘Well, keep playing but don’t disturb me! Can’t you see I’m trying to concentrate here? Creating a complete chaos in an otherwise peaceful locality!’ I yelled at them, my breathing several times faster.
‘C-can w-we…can we have our ball b-back?’ ventured Mohan, dismounting from his bicycle.
I was about to say ‘no’ and slam the window but Pooja got up before me and taking the ball from my hand, threw it back to them with a smile. They received the ball and began dancing as if they had just been released from court. They did not even glance at me.
I turned to Pooja. She caught my hand and led me away from the window.
‘What did you do that for?!’ I shot at her.
‘What else was there to do?’ she asked, chuckling slightly. ‘Were you really that upset?’
‘Of course I was!’ I snapped, my temper was rising again.
She looked away and smiled wistfully.
‘Now what is it?’ I asked, she was doing her ‘calm’ thing again.
‘You’re thinking too much,’ she said, running her hand over the arm of my chair. Before I could open my mouth to retaliate, she held up a hand. ‘They were just playing!’
‘And what’s the use of that?’
Pooja’s eyes widened slightly. ‘Sona,’ she said, ‘we don’t do things just because they are useful or profitable. Some things are done just for the sake of doing them. When was the last time you ever did something just for the fun of it?’
I tore my gaze from her and turned to the adjacent wall lined with photos of my childhood. It had been days since I had looked at them. I stared at myself in those photos. They seemed as if something from the movies—I was so different. My eyes were round with delight, my little hair were tied in a cute ponytail on top of my head, my hands were clapping at the sight of the ice-cream dad was feeding me. There was another photo in which I was sitting on a roller coaster, my arms raised in ecstasy and I was probably screaming, judging by the shape of my mouth. I looked—happy.
Hang on! Why were my eyes so wet? I stood up on the pretext of going to the bathroom and shut myself in. I could not allow myself to be seen crying—I had followed that rule since my childhood, when my uncle had teased me for crying over a twisted ankle.
I wiped my water-tear-mingled-wet face with a napkin and took a steadying breath. Pooja’s voice seemed to echo in my mind… ‘When was the last time you ever did something just for the fun of it?’
I looked back into my past. Ever since I had come to my ninth grade, I had been so burdened with my schedule that I had never really taken time out for some ‘fun.’ In the noise of my world’s demands, I had drowned the inner child in me—the child that wanted to enjoy life without thinking too much of how the future was supposed to be, what assignments were due and what questions were most likely to come up in NEET.
There was a knock on the door. ‘Are you dancing in there or what?’ called Pooja’s voice.
‘Coming,’ I replied and stepped out.
‘I thought you were never coming out!’ she exclaimed, stepping into the bathroom with a small laugh.
I moved to my table and closing my physics book, slid the notebook to the right corner. By the time Pooja came out, I had finished packing my pouch and was just opening my wardrobe in hunt for a change.
‘What happened?’ asked Pooja in surprise. ‘How come you finished your physics sum at the speed of light?’
‘Nah,’ I replied casually, picking a bright-blue dress with white flowers, ‘that’s not the plan for today. Let’s go out and have fun.’ And I stepped inside the bathroom, leaving Pooja with eyebrows raised in bewilderment.