There is no stopping the doubt once it creeped in. I cannot stop myself from asking questions for which I have no answer. Every time I look back I am reminded of how blind I have been. There seems to be so much in my family I was hidden away from. I am but seeing the outer edges, and am already frightened. Can I see the truth? Can I stand it?
“We have to get out tonight,” she announced. “And for that, we need to go shopping.”
I could understand why we had to go to the nest, but the shopping was beyond me. For the first time in our lives, we were grounded. We were big children and we should know how to control ourselves, our parents said. Of course they couldn’t punish us, not when the dads’ immediate reaction to learning of our outrageous behaviour in class had been to snicker. But we had to be shown that such actions weren’t what were expected of us. It was thus that it was decided that we were grounded for a week. No going anywhere but school and home. No computer, no tv. No access to even our books. A week couldn’t have gone by longer. At least we weren’t prevented from meeting each other. That would have been a true punishment. As long as we were together, Aniya and I could find a way to keep ourselves entertained.
The one bad thing about being grounded though, was that we couldn’t visit the nest. The dark side was kept from us too, as part of being grounded. A week later, when we were released from our punishment, it was obvious that the most important thing to do would be to head to the dark side.
“What shopping?” I asked.
I was smart enough to know I should be worried when Aniya said something like that. It wasn’t like she didn’t like shopping. But shopping for the dark side, for the nest, that was strange. My head was screaming at me, this is not good.
“Just something to make the night evermore enjoyable.”
The light in her eyes told me all I needed to know. I wouldn’t like it, but I would be enticed to enjoy it a great deal.
“Oh god, I don’t like the sound of that,” I confessed.
“Don’t worry Ani, aren't I right here with you. We’ll be just fine,” she declared.
That was in the morning as we made it to our class. For the first half of the day, nothing was different. Then came the lunch break. The silence of three hours had been the calm before the storm. Grabbing me before I could pull out lunch, she led us out.
“We’re getting out,” she announced.
I knew right then my fears were realised.
“Where?” I asked, knowing the futility of my feeble attempts at resistance.
There was something in her face, hidden away behind the smiles. Something that had been troubling her for a while. Seeing that, I knew I had to go along, even if I was convinced we would get into trouble.
“How are we going to get out?”
My question surprised her, but in a good way.
“I was expecting to have to convince you, I’m glad the dark side is starting to show on you.”
She was practically hugging me as she spoke of her appreciation. She had it figured out though. That was what had kept her occupied through the morning classes. Working out an escape route, and pulling favours from friends, to cover for us. I was certain they would never do it for me, but for her they would do anything. She was great like that.
We rushed out of the building, blending into the hordes of students rushing out to make the most of the lunch break in the open playground, escaping the building with the classrooms like it was a prison. There were a few glances thrown our way, wondering what we were doing with our bags. But they were quickly drawn back to their own missions of having fun. There was no need to pay extra attention to two students who seemed to be doing something they weren’t supposed to. In a school, rule breaking is more normal than faithful following of all rules. And all students, instinctively protected their own.
The security guard was at the gate. At the start of the break, he would head in to grab a quick bite before his actual lunch, along with the drivers of the buses. A few minutes at most. Those few minutes were our window. We slipped out easily, undetected. And ran the short distance to the cover of the road. And we were free.
The delight of breaking out showed clearly on her face. Mine was more subdued. I couldn’t let out as freely as Aniya. That was her skill. Her special power as I had come to call it. I wasn’t sure where we were going, but I was certain of the attention we would draw. Two students out at this time of the day in their uniform, were a definite eye drawer. Aniya had it thought out though. She pulled out two jackets from her bag, one for the each of us. Putting them on had our uniforms covered, even if it didn’t give total protection. But she wasn’t done yet. She pulled out our caps, and two pairs of sunglasses, to complete our look.
“This pleases you?” she asked, reading the worry on my mind.
“Greatly,” I answered, appeased considerably.
“Alright then, that’s good. Coz we’re hitting the mall.”
I knew without her telling me which mall it was we were going to hit. And I also had a feeling I knew what she was going to buy. More than the uncertainty, I wanted to see how she was planning on pulling it off. My curiosity the dominant feeling.
It was the first time we were out in the streets by ourselves, skipping school. The nights at the nest had me accustomed to being out where we weren’t supposed to be, but this was something else entirely. I was gripped by the fear of someone breaking the law. But there was also the excitement. The uncontainable exuberance. There were no rules marking boundaries for us. We were free. That was a feeling of ecstatic joy that brought a spring to my steps. I could see Aniya felt the same.
We were in uncharted territory. We were pirates. And we were great at it.
“We are definitely not eating that,” she decreed, emptying our lunch into the mouth of the garbage bin outside the mall. “Now, we have to find ourselves something to eat worthy of the great adventure we have embarked upon. And I know just the thing.”
She surprised me with the tickets for the movie she had booked. She bought a large bucket of cheese popcorn, two large pepsi, and two samosas at the food station, before going into the theatre. That was a lunch worthy of the adventure. Being the middle of the week, and the second week of the movie playing, there weren’t many in the audience. A total of ten had spread out through the hall, ensuring enough distance from each other. We battled for the popcorn watching the movie, and were thoroughly satisfied as we walked out after the end.
It was time for us to head back home if we didn’t want to get caught. And thus, it was also time for shopping. And this was where Aniya showed her ingenuity. She walked into the wine store like she totally belonged there. Grabbed a pack of six beers, and walked straight up to the billing counter. She pointed to me, whom she had asked to wait outside, had a brief conversation with the man behind the counter, paid for the beer and walked out.
“Look displeased,” she ordered, and before I could comply, she pulled me along. “Let’s go.”
“What were you two talking about?”
We were on the road, she was stuffing the beer into her backpack.
“Oh that? I told him you were my brother, and if I kept you waiting long you’d tell mom and I’d be in trouble. So I asked to rush with the billing and it worked. He was distracted enough to not bother with the id, and we got out beer. Imagine mom, if she found out. It would be a priceless moment.”
She was grinning like crazy.
It was always aunt who was on her mind. The one who pushed her to the dark side. The one who kept her smoking cigarettes. The one who kept her drinking beer.
I feel foolish for not having noticed before. I say I love them, but do I really know them? How many more secrets did they keep from me?