Friday, June 29, 2012

I Lived with a Pretty Girl

I don't remember that girl's name. She was tall, slim, and had very long dark hair that she liked to wear loose. It fell across her back and over her shoulders like so many twisty grapevines. At 16 she had the kind of face that people notice, that sets you apart in a crowd. Bright eyes, a button nose, doll-lips. It's easy to let a pretty face distract you from what's behind it. She was from Kanpur and was one of the 4 girls with whom I shared my (really shoddy) room at the all-girls' Abdullah Hall at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in India. I don't remember our room number (maybe 35?), but it was right at the end of the hall, in the same line as dreaded #43 where a group of baleful Kashmiri girls lived. I had only lived with this girl from Kanpur for a couple of weeks, but some things about her made me uncomfortable. Some strange madness behind her eyes which every once in a while turned to stone, something bad there going tick-tock, tick-tock.

We didn't know much about her. This was August 1997, and there was no Internet, no LinkedIn, no cell phones, no Blackberries, no Facebook. All we knew about this fierce (and frightening) beauty was that her parents had divorced (hush!) and that she lived with her mother. She had now joined AMU with us, a bunch of 11th grade science students, and lived locked up with the rest of us at the hostel.

I haven't seen her since 1997. I left AMU only 2 weeks after school started and went back to my old school in Muscat, Oman. I don't remember her name, but I expect that I'll remember it in a dream now after having thought about her so much today. She was a strange girl. Very reactionary and very sensitive. Too intense. She knew she was pretty, and I felt that took away from her beauty. One day we all heard in class about how the 12th graders would host a party for the 11th graders and would also have them walk in a fashion show. When we came back to our room, this girl immediately fished out a pair of worn-out closed shoes. They had low wide plastic heels, and I remember how she had confidently put them on and started strutting about the room in whatever little space we had. She was in her element, but something felt...scary. "I will be crowned the ramp queen," she had said, brightening up so suddenly. I can still see her, her dupatta slung across her body like a sash and tied at her waist, the loose ends swaying as she swung her hips in a confident catwalk, her arms swaying along with the rest of her. She had shown me the bottom of her shoes later. The soles were worn out at an angle. "These are my catwalk shoes," she had told me, "I have worn these out with so much catwalking that I can do it best in them." She was dead serious. I don't know, something about how much she banked on her physical appearance made me feel uncomfortable.

I remember how one day she'd been sitting on her bed, reading a letter she'd received from a friend in Kanpur. That's how we all kept in touch in those days. That sleepy afternoon we were all in our room and not really doing anything at all. All of a sudden she crumpled the letter very loudly in her hand and leapt off the bed. That's how she did things, too fast, too suddenly. We all watched as she ripped the letter to shreds and threw it onto the stone ground. Then she set it on fire and watched it burn. And she kept looking. And we kept looking at her. Her long lean body frozen, her eyes unblinking. Maybe she wanted to take in as much of the sight as she could. I wonder what was the matter with that beautiful girl.

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