“Fuck man, so what, even I haven’t finished the syllabus!” screamed Abhiuday to his friend Parthiv. “Stop complaining. You aren’t the only one, so just chill, yaar!”
The boys were standing outside the Exam Hall on the top floor of their school. All except one of the 12th Boards Prep exams were finished. The one remaining, though, was the mother of them all – Maths. And consequent to the whims of the scheduling masters of the school, right after the Maths test today, the students were to disperse for a couple of days before meeting again one last time on the school premises for the Senior Class Farewell. As was to be expected, this strange calendar mix of stress and joy had led to a quaint mood pervading through the air – it could only be described as taut yet audacious anticipation.
Right now, however, around the boys milled their classmates in various shades of unease, some even bordering on despair.
“You really don’t believe me, do you?” said Parthiv earnestly. “I don’t think I am going to survive this test!”
“It’s not the end of the world, yaar! We still have a month before the Boards! You’ll be fine!” Abhiuday remarked nonchalantly as his eyes remained distracted towards the stairs coming up to their floor.
“No, it won’t help. And how are you so calm, saaley? Have you been studying without me?” questioned Parthiv, suddenly sounding even more tense.
“Are you crazy? Ok, now shut up, here she comes!” said Abhiuday, his voice suddenly falling several decibels. He gave up his slouch, straightened his back and shoulders to appear taller and manly. He also crinkled his forehead just above the nose because he felt it made him look very earnest. His eyes were parked on Ankita, their classmate, who was slowly emerging from the stairs.
Parthiv’s eyes followed his friend’s. He shook his head subconsciously and let out a long breath. His eyes connected with Ankita for a second, who then immediately looked away like all self-aggrandizing girls are prone to do.
Just as she approached them on her way to the Exam Hall door, Abhiuday called out to her.
Ankita turned, feigning that she had only just noticed the boys, again, like all self-aggrandizing girls are prone to do.
“Oh hi, guys! How is it going?” she said, with a smile so bright that it immediately seared Abhiuday’s heart.
“Oh nothing much, just helping Parthiv revise some last minute theorems,” said the boy after unobtrusively gulping some saliva to activate his parched vocal chords. Parthiv looked at his friend and almost rolled his eyes.
“Great!” the girl said. “I am so nervous, I feel I haven’t prepared for the exam at all. I am going to fail!” the girl continued with her pretention.
“Me, too…” Parthiv tried to speak but was cut off by his pal momentarily.
“Oh, I am sure you will do fine!” said Abhiuday. “In fact,” he added, “maybe we should aim to do some practice for the Boards during the holidays. What say?”
“Oh, I don’t know…you know?” said the girl as she coquettishly tucked imaginary strands of hair behind her ears.
“It will be great fun. I mean, we will study hard and help each other out!”
The girl looked unconvinced. Bemused, even.
“Hey, we can even have Parthiv help us revise. He is very good at that. I swear!” he pleaded throwing sideway glances at his buddy.
Parthiv could only stare disbelievingly at his friend’s indulgence.
“Aw, ok. Maybe we can try it out,” she gave in finally.
The excited Abhiuday was thrilled to bits but wouldn’t let the feeling percolate to the exterior. In fact, he felt sanguine enough to take the course of this conversation to a new level of boldness.
“Hey, I was also meaning to ask…,” he started slowly, “would you like to be my date for Friday?”
There. It was out.
The girl stared at him starkly. Then her gaze shifted to Parthiv. Their eyes locked for a few moments before he broke away and turned his back to the couple.
“You know what? Sure, why not?” was all she said as she left the boys and made her way into the Exam Hall.
“You haven’t prepped with me at all and now I am going to fail,” mumbled Parthiv as they settled behind each other in the Exam Hall. Their common surname ensured that they had always been consecutive all through their school years. “If that happens…”
“There, you have started again,” riled his friend. “Ok, now shut up,” he added as the exam bell clanged loudly.
“And, hey, best of luck, fucker!” he parted as the room went silent.
Parthiv was silent as the boys left the hall three hours later.
“Phew…I am glad that is out of our system!” exclaimed Abhiuday. He looked at his quiet friend.
“Sorry, yaar, I couldn’t spend more time with you these past few weeks. You see, with my cousins in town, then the wedding…and then I have been so distracted with Ankita, I just couldn’t concentrate!” Abhiuday went on. “But I promise, it will be just you and me till the Boards end. We will study together and we will both do well!” he added usefully.
“Really?” was Parthiv’s retort. “What about that bitch?”
“Hey, come on, man! What do you have against Ankita, you fucker?”
“Oh nothing, fucker! Just that she is a bitch and you had better keep away from her!”
“Oh and how do you know she is a bitch, you loser?”
“I know. Believe me, I know!” said Parthiv in an anguished tone. “Please man, just stay away from her. You and I – we have to work together for the Boards. Like we always have. We can’t afford not to! She is just going to ruin everything. Everything!”
Abhiuday was taken aback at his friend’s insistence.
“Hey, why are you getting so emotional about a stupid exam, you fucker?”
The boys stared at each other for several minutes. Neither spoke.
“You know what, man, just chill. We will talk about it later, ok?” said Abhiuday finally.
As the boys parted, only one turned to look back.
Abhiuday entered his house at around 4 pm. He was humming a recent Mika song as he walked into his room and flung his school bag on the settee. As was normal routine, the first task he did was to walk up to the computer on his study table and hit the ‘Enter’ key on the keyboard. The Mac quickly sprung to life. Angry as he was with Parthiv, he still had a huge impulse to IM him about their plans to meet up in the evening.
It was his mother’s voice from the door. The boy swung around, surprised to see his mother home at this early hour. She was usually at the club around this time.
“Mom, you home?” he said as he sensed from her expression that something was amiss. “What’s wrong?” he said wanting to confirm his intuition even as he started to walk towards her.
“Come sit with me,” she said instructing him to join her as she sat on his bed.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” the boy repeated.
“How was the exam?” the mother said, attempting to distract her son.
“It was okay. Exams are over, finally. Who cares about the Pre-Boards anyway? Is that what you are worrying about? I am telling you – the Boards will be fine!”
“I see. Anything else happen in school today?” the mother continued with her subtle investigation even as her voice trembled slightly. The boy didn’t notice.
“I, errm…nothing much. Just made some plans for the Farewell party on Friday” Abhiuday continued, deciding not to divulge any details about Ankita to his mother just yet. Maybe on Friday, he thought.
“And Parthiv?” explored his mother.
“He can be such an asshole, Mom! Kept cribbing about the exam all day. Anyway, I will see him in the evening. We have to plan for Friday – it’s going to be a sick partaay!” exclaimed the excited boy, not immediately noticing the sudden tears welling in his mother’s eyes.
“Oh mere bachchey!” cried the mother as her self-control finally gave way completely. She clasped at her boy’s hands between frantic sobs.
“Mom!” yelled the alarmed boy, not comprehending the situation.
“Parthiv’s mom called fifteen minutes ago,” the mother managed to speak between deep gasps. “He killed himself at home,” said the mother pulling her son’s face to her shoulder.
Held in an incongruous embrace by his mother, Abhiuday stared stolidly past the room at his computer screen. The instant message window was active, flashing, desperately seeking attention. Try as he might, and despite his proximity, Abhiuday couldn’t tell what it said.