That evening Anjali went to the temple to say a special thank you to DM and on the way back shrieks of laughter drew her to the nearby park. The park seemed to be a popular hangout for children. There was so much of laughter, joy and fun that Anjali was drawn again and again to the park.
Soon she began to go there on a daily basis; the children’s zeal and enthusiasm was infectious and after a long day cooped up in an office, she always left the park with a sense of rejuvenation.
One day as she was on her way to sit at her favorite ringside bench, two boys came chasing each other, bumped into her and dashed off. Anjali tripped and fell. Though she was not seriously hurt, she was having difficulty in getting up, when a little hand came and helped her up.
“Oh Maam, are you hurt?” It was a little girl of may be 6 years of age. She had a curly mop of hair and the brightest of eyes full of worry and concern. Anjali fell in love with her in an instant. She had an irresistible urge to hug the little girl. Controlling herself she gratefully took the little girl’s support, and managed to haul herself on to the bench. She turned to thank her savior, but she had run off.
Disappointed Anjali tried to assess the extent of her injuries. Not enough to give Chotte the hysterics she thought, maybe she could even get away with not informing him, she thought hopefully.
Just then the little girl returned with two scruffy boys in tow and ordered them to say sorry, relieved to get off so lightly they yelled ‘Sorry’ and vanished before they could even blink.
Both Anjali and the little girl burst into laughter.
Anjali held out her hand, “Thank you sweetheart, what is your name?”
The girl shook her hand and said, “You are welcome, my name is Anya, what’s yours?”
Anjali was a bit taken aback, but she managed to respond in kind. “Hello Anya, my name is Anjali.”
They smiled at each other. Anya looked mature for her age and she also had a strong American accent.
“So Anya” said Anjali, “Where are you from?”
Anya readily, “Oh I live nearby but we have shifted to Delhi only recently. Earlier we used to stay in New York, but Dad decided that he wanted to live in India, so I also came along with him.”
Anjali hid her smile, “Good thinking Anya, and what about your Mum?”
Anya matter-of-factly, “Mum died in a car accident. Does your mum stay with you?”
Anjali swallowed and shook her head, “No my Mum too passed away long ago.
Anya, “And your Dad”?
Anjali again shook her head.
Anya, “Do you have a baby?”
A tear slipped out as Anjali again shook her head.
Anya spontaneously and naturally came forward and hugged Anjali, “I am sorry. At least I have my Dad.”
Suddenly Anjali felt ashamed of herself, this little girl felt sorry for her. She wiped her tears and said, “Don’t feel bad for me, I have a lovely family, a grandmother, uncle aunt and two brothers and two sister-in-laws who love me very much”
Anya cheered up. “I am so happy. I like you, and can we be friends?”
Anjali was floored by the compliment, she laughed and said, “I like you too and would love to be friends.”
They solemnly shook hands and then a problem arose.
Anya tapped her cheek, “But what shall I call you. Dad says it is rude to call older people by their names, especially in India but I don’t want to call you ‘Aunty’.
Anjali felt laughter bubble up inside her, she bit her lip, “Yes even I wouldn’t want you to call me Aunty, after all I am your friend not Aunt, so let’s see, how about ‘Frienty’?
“Frienty,” tried out Anya and then wrinkled her nose and shook her head, “Can I call you ‘Anjie’? After all it is not your name so it wouldn’t be really wrong or rude to call you that. And in New York I had a friend whose name was Angelina, I used to call her Anjie. I really miss her,” she said a bit sadly.
Anjali was touched, “Yes that’s great, I would love that and besides it would be rude or wrong only if you didn’t take my permission. So Anjie it is!”
“Yay”, cheered Anya and clapped, “Three cheers for Anjie and Anya BFF”
Anjali was confused, “BFF?”
Anya rolled her eyes, “Best friends forever.”
Anjali, suitably educated and rechristened, raised her right hand, “Three cheers for Anya and Anjie BFF,” she did a high five with Anya.
And thus was born an unlikely friendship. They met on a daily basis and conversation flowed easily between the two as if there was no age gap between them. Anjali wondered, is she mature for her age or am I too immature for my age? The latter was too unsettling so she settled for the former. Anya too began to look forward to Anjali’s visits to the park. As she was rather mature for her age she found it difficult to make friends, especially as her Hindi was not too good.
Bit by bit Anjali got to know Anya’s story and without much effort. Anjali would have to ask just one question and she would be deluged with information. Strangely Anya reminded Anjali of Khushi. Perhaps it was because she was such a chatterbox and had such a helpful nature.
“What does your father do Anya?” asked Anjali
“Dad is a doctor, a psychiatrist. Mum was a theatre actor. She was always busy and so Dad was the one who mostly played with me. Actually I don’t really remember her much. But she was really pretty. I wish I was pretty too.”
Anjali, swallowing hard, “I think you are really pretty.”
Anya doubtfully, “Truly? Actually even Dad says so, but then he is biased. That Kevin at my earlier school in New York used to call me ‘Maggie curls”.
Anjali laughed which she managed to convert into a cough at the last minute as she realized that Anya could misinterpret her laugh and said with all seriousness she could muster, “Maggie curls? But I love your curls, I wish I had curls like that and when I do want them I have pay through my nose to get such curls. And honestly, I think you really are very pretty, your smile is the best and you can’t call me biased can you?”
Anya looked at her and seemed to be weighing her statement, “Thank you, I think you are pretty too and your hair is nice, but I like my curls better.”
Anjali, very entertained, “Thank you dear, so we are in agreement, your curls are the best.”
Anya twinkled naughtily.
“Who looks after you Anya while your Dad is at work?”
“There’s Nanny,” said Anya pointing at older sari-clad lady sitting across the park with a couple of more ladies, presumably also nannies. “She stays with us and cooks for us. She is nice but she can’t understand what I say and I can’t understand what she says. She thinks pizza is paratha covered with cheese!”
They laughed heartily.
“Do you have any family in Delhi Anya?” Anjali questioned her.
“I don’t know”, Anya shrugged, “Dad says he came to India to look for his family. He lost touch with them when they moved to New York. I hope he finds them soon, it would be fun to have lots of cousins.”
“Of course”, Anjali smiled, while she was touched, poor child was so lonely and missing her friends. Yet she was coping so bravely without a word of any complaint.
Click here for Chapter 14