Beholden

>She doesn’t know why she thinks of that day. She doesn’t even remember his name. Not properly at least. She has been thinking of that day a lot lately. She tries to reconstruct the events leading up to it, she remembers most details. But not his name.

It had happened when she was seven or eight, almost fifteen years back. She can’t believe so many years have gone by and she recalls it only now.

It was second period- History, in 3rd E2.

The teacher, Mrs.Gulati was considered to be strict. She didn’t hesitate before doling out punishment and called lions “loins”.

She was her usual talkative self, he was sitting quietly. She never bothered to ask if he ever listened, at all. She’s not even sure if they talked, if they were friends, or just partners waiting to be assigned to a new companion any day. It was his birthday. But he wasn’t wearing the customary new, casual dress. Every kid loved the opportunity to not dress in regular uniform. Not him though, he seemed his usual calm and composed self. There used to be some rotation, ensuring every pair got their chance to sit in the front rows. They were in the fifth or sixth row. She isn’t very sure, but she remembers wherever they were sitting, it gave him enough time.

“Take out your textbooks now,” Mrs.Gulati calls the class to attention.

She reaches into her bag and starts looking for the pink writing on the pages that had been treated as blinds, common method employed by most students to help identify books. It was taking her too long to find that book, he was already sitting straight, with his book in front of him. She abandons her search and begins to prepare herself for the ultimate humiliation. She has forgotten to pack the book back, now she will suffer.

“Those who don’t have the textbook, go sit on the floor.” Mrs. Gulati was walking between the rows, inspecting, ready to unleash the first round of punishments. She was walking two aisles away, slowly heading their way. Three students had already made their way to the floor.

He looks at her, as if studying her, his options. Silently he moves his textbook to her side. She accepts it quietly, like a mouse. Her chatter and chirping gone, mute. She doesn’t even question the fairness or unfairness of it all. She just doesn’t want to be sitting on that floor.

He stands up just as Mrs. Gulati approaches their desk. She looks at him, realizes it’s his birthday by the big pack of toffees sitting on their desk. She wishes him, takes a toffee, but no one is spared from punishment. Not even birthday boy. She walks towards the back, inspecting. He knows what’s to be done. He picks up his notebook and goes and joins the other students sitting on the floor.

She’s still keeping quiet, still accepting his kindness with a shameful silence. She looks at him, wondering how angry or humiliated he must feel. He looks straight ahead, his spectacles perched on his nose, looking up at the board. Where she was earlier dreading being sent to the floor, now she’s dreading the end of the class. She couldn’t face him. She has no idea about the lesson, only remembers reading the text blindly, twisting her fingers and looking at him from time to time.

But the class finally comes to an end. They are given some homework and reminders to bring the required books. She forces herself to remember for tomorrow, to avoid another today. He returns to their desk, dusts off his pants and sits. She passes the book back to him.

She doesn’t remember if she had thanked him or not. She doesn’t remember if that bothered her then or not. She doesn’t remember how rest of the day, the week, the remainder of the year had had gone. But it’s been bothering her lately. She has realized only very recently how big an act of kindness it was on his part for her, at that time. He had left the school at end of that year.

His name may have been Shepherd. Or Stefford. Or neither. She feels infuriated at herself, how she remembers so many other names from school, some of whom she hadn’t even talked to ever, but has forgotten his name.

So many people from your past now stalk you. She has tried looking for him. But she doesn’t remember his name, has no idea how he may look now. She doesn’t know if she will ever find him and will finally get to thank him. Maybe he would have changed by now, maybe he would seek her out to reclaim the gratitude owed. Maybe someone will read this, ask a friend who’s known by this name if he remembers being the nicest guy for a talkative, annoying girl. She knows this is plain day-dreaming.

But she still holds some hope. To find the birthday boy and utter a very delayed “Thank you”.

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