The playground was full of children as it usually was near sunset. The younger ones waited for a chance on the swings or the monkey bars, while the older ones played badminton or football. The parents took their chance too, sitting on one of the benches around the park, watching their darlings play while they caught up on the neighborhood gossip.
Ajay saw his new classmate sitting on the swings. While most children would have been laughing as they swung high and tried to touch the clouds, he saw that Mira was still the serious girl the teacher had introduced to his class a few days back.
“Hi Mira!” he called out, smiling as he walked toward the swings.
“And what do you want?” she replied, digging her heels into the soft earth as she brought the swing to a stop.
“Well, you’re new here. Maybe we could be friends.”
“No. I don’t want anyone around.”
Before Ajay could tell anything, she walked off, the sullen expression on her face deepened.
“What a strange girl,” he wondered, sitting on the swing she had left.
The next day evening, as Ajay walked back from school, he saw Mira walking ahead of him. As he watched, she slowed down, and went to the side of the road. She picked up a stray puppy, and as she held the puppy and gave her a biscuit from her lunch bag, Ajay saw Mira smile for the first time.
“How kind she is, and yet, she is so rude towards others!” he thought. He walked past her, pretending not to notice the smile. When he crossed her house, Ajay saw her grandmother at the gate. He had seen her once before and he waved a hello and went to talk.
“Hello. I’m Ajay. I’m Mira’s classmate, naani ji,” he introduced himself. The smile she gave in return reminded him of Mira’s, and put him at ease with her immediately.
“Mira has that same smile,” he told her.
“She does. But I haven’t seen it on her face in months, beta,” she told him, the smile lost for a moment.
“She doesn’t smile in class either. But I saw it a few minutes back. Why is she so sad?”
“She lost her mother a few months back. Her father works here, and so we had to move. And since we reached here, he has not been home much. I think Mira feels lonely. She’s really a sweet girl, but tries to act strong and not share her sadness to others.”
Seeing Mira coming, Ajay thanked her naani, and quickly walked ahead.
“So that was the reason!” he thought to himself. “She really needs a friend.”
The next day was a Saturday. When Mira walked toward the swings in the park, she saw Ajay sitting on one of the benches. He had a puppy with him, a golden retriever with a red collar who gave a big friendly woof on seeing her.
“Want to say hello?” he called to her.
Mira went to the bench, a happy glint in her eyes. She loved dogs, having had one of her own once.
“What’s his name?” she asked Ajay.
“His name is Scoot. He’s very friendly.”
“Say hello, Scoot,” he told the pup, who promptly put up a paw to Mira.
Mira smiled as she happily shook hands with the pup, forgetting to be rude to Ajay as she did so.
“You have a lovely smile, Mira,” Ajay told her. “Maybe you could show that side to the class too. Let us help you feel a bit more at home.”
For once, Mira had no words to rebut that of his. As her sadness was forgotten, his approach seemed genuine.
“I’ll try,” she heard herself say, much to her surprise.
On that bench, in the warm orange glow of a sunset, an enigma was understood, and a friendship was born.
(© Vinay Leo R. @ I Rhyme Without Reason,
6th April, 2017)