Our school stood strong on the belief that PT was important for the students. It was thus that every class had two periods of PT a week. We as a class were adept at pissing teachers off. And then getting told off. Three weeks ago, we had a period free, the teacher caught up in something else. Finding the ground empty, we rushed out. Why let such a perfect opportunity go waste, especially when the sports season was so near. Volleyball was one of the three titles games of the sports season. That day, we had made up our mind to have some volleyball practice since it wasn’t as easy practising as the other games. The balls were locked inside the closet in the sports room though. We couldn’t be disheartened, which led us to do the stupidest thing we did in a long time. We decided to play with the one football lying outside.
From the very first serve, we felt the difference. The flesh of our hands burning, the bones aching. But that wouldn’t stop us. We were concerned though, that the ball was heavier than the typical volleyball and was throwing our serves off. We were all switching in and out players on the court, since everyone had to get some practice. The rapidly reddening hands gave us sufficient excuse to warrant it. By the end of play, there wasn’t a single hand that wasn’t smarting enough to leave us teary eyed. Still, we were satisfied having gotten enough practice. Back in class, we were laughing at each other, how hard a struggle it was to even get out water bottles open. Then, in walked Mrs Maheshwari.
She had come prepared to give us a lot to write. We never said nay to notes, never offered resistance. It was one of the few good traits we possessed. As she started reciting, she realised with alarm that no hand was moving. One look at our reddened hands and she knew we had been our usual selves, up to no good. She asked what happened, and we had to tell.
She took our story to our class teacher, Mr Prasad, who decided to leave the punishing up to Mr Laxman, our PT teacher. A man we liked, and who liked us too. That day though, we were standing on the two ends of hate. We had been unbelievably stupid. Serious first, he decided we deserved severe punishing so we wouldn’t ever repeat the stupidity. We had to kneel on the ground through the rest of the period. A good thirty minutes. When the other two teachers left, with Mr Laxman watching over us in class, he burst out laughing. Ceaselessly insulting us.
We first bust our hands playing volleyball with a football. And then our knees kneeling as punishment. Heading home at the end of the day, we were battle ravaged soldiers. We hated the day, clueless about how special the day would be in the future.
It was a day that would come back in all its glory two months later. On the afternoon of the finals of the seniors volleyball championship. There was no limit to the number of teams from each of the four houses the students were divided into. Our team had eight of us from our class and the neighbouring. We weren’t among the seeded teams, but we had surprised everyone beating the top seeded team to make it to the semi finals. Ameer standing in front of the net, was the best blocker of the school. The one who had single handedly shut out all teams they faced. Until we showed the way to break him. Sacrificing the first set, spiking away from him, like all other teams and failing. We started our attack in the second set. Having fallen to our deceit, to the rhythm we had prepared for him, he was in no position to stand up to our assault. All the spikes were aimed at him. Until by the end of the second set, with a close defeat he had to be subbed out. Needing rest. We had done what no other team could, taken out Ameer. And now the game was open for taking. Take it we did. Beating them in straight sets. When Ameer returned in the fourth set, he was a broken soldier. With little support from his tired and defeated team, he could do nothing but fall too. We had carved our way to the semi finals through the defeat of the strongest team.
The semi finals were just as memorable too, since we were up against the second seeded team. They were coming from a demanding quarter finals with the third seeded team. They were half beaten soldiers, who couldn’t stand up to our assault. It was a slaughter, that left everyone stunned. We were officially the dark horse decimating our opponents on our way to the finals.
After a very long time, neither of the finalists were meeting with any predictions made before the start of the championship. Even more spectacular was the fact that both the teams in the finals had the majority of players from our class. There was bound to be drama. Champions of one of the three title games was a matter of great pride. Attempting to rile us up, Kunal from the opponent team hadn’t even realised he had gone too far. Starting with an exchange of words, he was physically engaging us. Unfortunately for him, he had shoved me. Aniya, always near by, was in his face before he knew, shoving him back. She was stronger than she looked, and always ready for a fight. Both of them angry, there was no going back now. He shoved her right back, and said things he would later apologise sincerely for. Right then though, he managed to anger us all. Pulling her behind me, I was in front of her instantly. With the rest of the team by me. He wanted us riled, and we were. More than he could be prepared for. We were no longer fighting for merely the championship. It wasn’t merely by fluke that we managed to defeat the top seeded teams. With our ability pulled out to the best, they were no match for us. Crushed in what would be one of the shortest ever final.
We were proud. It was a moment of camaraderie as we hadn’t ever seen. We stood up for a friend. I stood up for Aniya. We were both terribly happy. She always said it was her duty, being the older one. Which was why it was so amazing having her look at me as her defender.
The day was commemorated by the photograph of the six of us leaping in celebration of our victory, for the camera. But even more by Aniya and I posing, her fresh and clean face lined up against mine sweaty and dirty, our cheeks pressing, as our endless wide smiles melted into each other’s.
It was a photograph that made it’s way onto the wall of memory above her bed, finding place among the greats. Months later, I was sitting on her bed, cross legged, looking up at the photograph on the wall. The smile on my face just as wide as in the photograph. Waiting for Aniya to come out from the bathroom, changed into her new clothes. It took a herculean effort getting her to give in, and let us buy her a dress for her birthday. They’re so uncomfortable, she argued. But she had to give in as we pressed on relentlessly. No pink, was her condition, and we gave in. No pink. We weren’t even thinking of pink though. There was a dress we had seen and loved. We took her straight to it, and even she couldn’t put it down. She agreed, surprising herself by how easily she liked the dress. As she walked out the bathroom, I knew it was all worth it.
The light green dress was plain, it’s elegancy growing from the sharp cuts, wrapping around Aniya’s perfect body. Shining over her outstanding femininity. She was breathtakingly beautiful. Maybe it was just me, but I was certain it wasn’t. She was truly beautiful. Making up for the both of us.
“Fucking hell, I think even I love it,” she exclaimed.
I understood perfectly how big a deal that was. Her admitting to liking a dress. And then she said what would remain the most amazing thing she ever said for the longest time.
“I couldn’t fucking believe how amazingly beautiful I looked in the mirror.”
We burst out laughing, when the moment of astonishment passed.
“Happy birthday,” I told her. Reaching over, she helped me off the bed to my feet. Then wrapping her hands around me.
“Thank you so very much,” she exclaimed, not letting go.
Neither was I letting go. We deserved this moment of celebration. We had just witnessed a scene that was no short of a miracle. We didn’t have forever though, as the parents burst in. All of them expressing similar compliments at how beautiful, how perfect she looked. She was turning pink from embarrassment, had to drag us out to where the cake was waiting.
It was vanilla, the flavour she loved her cake best in. She went ballistic over the magically-relighting candles, as we sang her the birthday song, going on as long as she went at the candles. Laughing maniacally. She then took the knife and started cutting out large slices of cake. Really large slices that were as large as her hands. The grin on her face told us what came next. She was going to stuff the slices into our mouths whole. The resistance began, as we started grabbing for the cake. Then came the stuffing. We were five of us against one of her, all of us succeeding in having her open wide to let the fistful of cake get stuffed into her mouth. So was she, forcing the large slices of cake into our five mouths. It was a sight to behold. Our faces under a cover of the vanilla cream. Even our breath stained by the vanilla. There was still cake left though. The battle for the last of the cake started too quickly. She had a stronghold, waving the knife to keep us away. It was an action that caused the accident. Certain our forked attack would work, dad and I went at her from two sides. She was faster than us though, slicing the air in our path, ending our march. But not before the blade sliced through my hand.
The cake fell to the floor, no longer the centre of the battle. The battle itself fell forgotten. Aniya was the first to reach, wrapping her hands around the wound, her hands turning red from the blood seeping through the fingers. Dad was next, almost losing balance slipping over the cream fallen on the floor. The rest came next. There were orders screamed. I was made to sit down, as the medical kit was brought out. There was silence then as mom attended to the wound. There was a bandage wrapped prettily around my hand, when peace returned. It was Aniya who broke the silence, bringing back the laughter.
“This is why dresses suck,” she said. “I guess this means we’ve all gotta change for dinner.”
There was blood over the front of her dress, too much to look away from. Maybe the dress could be salvaged. But right then, for the dinner, we had to change.
“Yeah, that truly sucks,” uncle agreed. And we burst out laughing.
It was a sea of blue. A sea with a storm tearing it about. The surges of blue, the dips and falls around us, were disorienting. I could hear the laughs, the singing, but it was a mess that I couldn’t make any sense of. I was a mess lost in the confusion of the blue erupting around us. It took a while to get used to it, a long while before I could see what was happening, see the familiar scene.
With the blue shrouding her, Aniya looked divine. If the others could see her now, they would agree. She looked like an angel, a star that had fallen from the heavens. I couldn’t help the smile, or the tears. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Had to fill my ears with her ringing laughter. Her laughing face filling my heart. I wish for the moment to freeze, remain forever.
Then I see the rest of them. All of them filled with life, laughing as always, playing and screaming as I remembered them. This is how it was supposed to be always. The blue in the room serving as a perfect background for the fantastic scene.
The gales were leaping off the blue around her even more playful than her swinging the knife. There was a change then, as I recognised what came next. There was a current of blue behind me as I marched up to her, the blade slicing through flesh, drawing blood. Then came the explosion of blue, as everyone leapt into action, over me. If it was a storm before, it was now a mega storm of extraordinary proportions. It hurt trying to make sense. I wasn’t sure I could be an audience. There was too much I was feeling. The pain in my hand. The warmth of everyone around me. The joy of Aniya’s birthday. The sorrow of the reality. Too much to be able to make something of.
Then I saw it. The blue as calm around aunt, as it was around me. No gales leaping off her. A thin blanket of blue enveloping her, same as me, yet somehow different. Almost indescribably so. There was also the feeling of having finally found the thing I was looking for, for so long. There could be no doubt, not anymore. The blue that was starting to fill all of my head, all my memories, was at the centre of it all. And in the centre of all that blue, was I. And aunt.