She was pretty. She knew it, too, and used it shamelessly to her advantage whenever she thought it would give her the slightest edge in anything. Her face was well enough structured, but it was her skin, pale and creamy and only ever charmingly blemished, that did it for her; that and the way she used her face, the expressions. She was petite but healthy-bodied. She attracted attention, but not stares. She smiled often, and had a repertoire of smiles, one for every occasion and desired outcome.

Socially speaking, her one perhaps redeemable feature was her temper; it blazed at the slightest annoyance, and gave her scowls; but died down just as fast. She refused to be embarrassed by it, and carried on blithely once any issue it caused was resolved. Whatever her other virtues and failings, it was this for which people liked her, because it made her both imperfect and nonthreatening. There is nothing as toothless as an easily appeased temperament.

She was only ever truly beautiful when she danced.

It was what I loved her for.

The first time I saw her was in a group of five. The occasion was meaningless, one of the many half-baked internal - “inter-house” – events foisted on our free time for the sake of generating the facsimile of a diverse almanac that the institute presented prospectives with. The performance was pitiful, really, with the steps repetitive and exaggerated, and all the dancers out of step to the point where one wondered if they were even performing the same routine. Front and centre, put there to bolster the overall appearance and remind the others of what they were doing, she stood giving life even to those dull motions. Enthusiasm formed the basis for why their group won; the other dancers' as well, I suppose, but mostly her own. She seemed to take up the entirety of the pitiful stage, tiny as she was physically. The other dancers were little more than flawed extensions of her presence.

That magnified personality was the first hint I had of her possessing any character to speak of.

It wasn't much unusual, though; just a moment of reflection that betrayed her being human. Character is the property of not being superfluous to a story – any story – worth being written, and stories are forgiving things; by this measure you would be hard pressed to find someone without an ounce of character to speak of over the course of their lives and pasts and deaths. This was simply the moment where I realized she was worth my interest; an epistemic phenomenon purely. The first moment where I could decisively say she interested me came much later; how it came about, though, causally or chronologically, seems both perfectly obvious and utterly shrouded in mystery.

We were friends, or were defined as such in the social structure of our surroundings, almost from the first day. In my mind at that time, she was only someone I spoke to. It was a matter of circumstance – or at least, not fully relevant – that I spoke to perhaps three people out of a hundred-odd in my immediate environment, and seven in the extended; not counting those with whom communication was unavoidable but mercifully scripted. She bored me much of the time, but possessed flashes of insight into matters that honestly interested her, as opposed to the many things she did for the sake of being able to say she had done it, or for the sake of impressing or ingratiating herself with the others.

“Maths?” she'd say. “I love the subject. You can get a hundred in maths.” I would roll my eyes, and she would look at me sidelong. “Don't act like you're so much above all of this marks bullshit. You care about it more than most of these idiots.” And I did care, much as I tried to hide it: whatever anybody said they hated in public, they wanted in private. She was perceptive because her world was made of these sorts of absolutes.

Everyone wanted to be better. The best wanted to be better at something else. Work was always the last resort. Being nice avoided trouble. Slightly dim girls were endearing and got treated well. Whatever it was one wanted to accomplish, there was always someone somewhere willing to strike a deal that would accomplish it for you.

Some of these were reflective, and some were algorithmic. It was rare that she found herself wrong, because she constructed and applied her rules very well. She was generally thought smart, but by her own design she appeared much less intelligent than she was.

In hindsight, I did talk to her quite a lot, even in those early days. Her own insecurity and mine centred many of our conversations on why and how precisely we enjoyed each other. We shared every detail of our lives and histories, in a passive-aggressive bid to outdo each other in the levels of pathos and anger we could manufacture from them.

“I hate my father so much.”

“Me too. He should just leave the house already. My mother has spent half her life completely miserable because of him. I don't get why he doesn't just leave.”

“You haven't seen the half of it. Thank God mine isn't home right now. The things he used to…ugh, I can't even think about it without feeling like screaming.”

“Like what?”

I seized upon whatever dregs of empathetic feeling I could find in myself to try and justify my curiosity; the moment, the unfamiliar flavours of falseness, remain vivid in my mind. She was looking for it; she was in a boasting mood, after all, and how without an audience ready to eat out of her hand? She would pause for a moment, perfectly timed, as she bit her lip in a show of nervousness. You would feel by the way she looked at you as if you were in her deepest confidence; and yet I had heard the same spiel given to others: different context, different content, same beats. With other people, it would be others' secrets she would share. She had a measure of trust in my closed mouth, because who would I open it to?

I loved to play her game, because she elevated it to an art form.

I couldn't say where among these million small processes and occurrences I began to observe as closely as I did; or when within that observation, I began to be fascinated. In hindsight, situation and circumstance made it perfectly obvious, a given even, what was going to happen. But if I were to attempt a causal map, a true recount of the hows and wherefores of our outcome, I would find myself unmoored. For concrete events I have only one true instance I can point to, and that was the moment, that unbearable, forceful moment crystalline in my memory; when, on an interminable bus ride back to the campus from some unimportant competition, she touched the tips of her fingers to pointed toes on an outstretched leg, gracefully, showily loosening her cramped limbs across the empty aisle. Her hair fell forward across her shoulders and onto her knees, curls at the nape sticking there with sweat; the pleats of her skirt fanned out, hanging just above the floor; her eyes, large and direct, were focused on her pointed shoe; and her bare shin was laid out at waist level, square in my field of vision. The airless interior became vacuum to my lungs, and I realized I was obsessed.

Date: <2016-05-10 Tue> [2014-08-10 Sun]

Author: Sahiti Chedalavada

Created: 2020-12-14 Mon 02:14