Two tiny sticky chocolate smeared hands held each other as they walked towards the huge maple tree which was situated at the end of their school playground.
“I’m out of breathing Raj, shall we just settle down here for the picnic,” Wined the little girl. Her plump pink lips pressed thinly together in annoyance. She loved the idea of enjoying a nice picnic with Raj under the shade of the maple tree. But her fifth-grade school backpack seemed to be rather too heavy for her liking. Hence tiring her and her shoulders were begging for relief. Particularly today it was heavier because she had to borrow Raj’s books to catch up on the class lessons she had missed. Since for three days, she had to be in the boarding infirmary due to high fever.
They stopped walking as she said that. Raj turned to face her still holding her hand, smiling at her and gazed at her lovingly with his almond-shaped dark eyes with long dark eyelashes,” please, Jas, just a little bit more of effort and will be there in no time. I promise I’ll give you the rest of the leftover chocolate.”
The mention of the chocolate excited her but the heavy uneasiness on her shoulder killed her excitement. Pouting,” I can’t my shoulders aching. The backpack is just too heavy for me.” Having said that she adjusted the left strap of the backpack on her shoulders with her other free hand.
Sighing, “Here let me carry it for you,” offered Raj releasing the hand that held her hand and relieved her of the backpack. He strapped her backpack to the front of his body and held her hand.
“Feeling better?” He asked.
“Yes. Thank you, Raj.” She smiled.
As they began to walk towards the maple tree, Jasmine Madison glanced at her best friend and thought she was so thankful to Mother Mary for answering her prayers to bless her with a best friend, which she had been praying earnestly for.
Life was difficult for that nine-year-old girl, being made to stay at the boarding for girls run by the Apostolic Carmel Nuns of the school by her parents at the tender age of seven with her two older sisters. She often felt homesick and to top that, apart from the older girls no one from her age group in the boarding played with her. They avoided her and had been at the receiving end of their constant snickering behind her back. She would give anything to ask them the reason for their attitude but she didn’t for fear of being bullied further.
She felt very lonely.
But her loneliness never became chronic because of Raj. He made everything beautiful for her. If only she wishes he did stay at the boarding too.
Finally arriving at their spot they settled down on the bed of the soft green grass, the maple tree providing a welcoming shade from the glaring heat of the sun. They sat down crossed leg facing each other.
Flashing a grin Raj excitedly told Jasmine,” Jas, I want you to close your eyes.”
“Why must I do that,” asked Jas stubbornly folding her hands across her chest.
“Because I said so Jas and besides I have a surprise for you.” He said grinning at her.
Narrowing her eyes at him,” You don’t get to boss me around Raj surprise or not.”
Raj rolled his eyes. No doubt for him his tiny heart was filled with so much love for this girl. But she can be very hard-headed at times and it most of the time drove him insane.
Sighing deeply and trying hard to make his tone seem not bossy at all,” Can you please close your eyes Jas? I really put a lot of effort into arranging this surprise for you.” he requested.
Sensing his sincerity, Jasmine nodded and closed her eyes covering it with her palms. But she left some small gap between her fingers so she could peep.
Raj noticed her sneaky antics, shaking his head, “No peeping, Jas, I know you are, so please don’t. And open your eyes only when I say so okay.”
She gave a sheepish smile having being caught she folded her hands across her chest and shut her eyes tighter.
Satisfied, Raj quickly opened his backpack and started taking out the things he spent time last night preparing for her.
After neatly arranging everything, satisfied with the result, he shifted his attention towards her.
But instead of telling her to open her eyes he found himself admiring her.
He still remembers their first meeting from two years back as if it were yesterday. It was the first day of school after winter break; she was the new student that year in their third grade. He was sitting as usual in the front and taking out his books when he heard the footsteps coming towards his left from the doorway.
The moment he shifted his attention towards the footstep, he gasped and felt his tiny heart palpitating for eons of beats. He saw the most beautiful girl he had ever laid his eyes on. She stood in the doorway fidgeting pulling the hem of her school uniform skirt and looking down at her glittery pink shoes. Their eyes locked together when she slowly lifted her head up, his thin lips stretched into a smile and her plump pink lips smiled back. She found herself walking towards him and sitting down next to him.
“Hi, I am Rajiv Sharma. You can call me Raj.” He said still smiling and extended his right hand.
Shaking his hand,” I’m Jasmine Madison. You can call me Jas.” She smiled back shyly.
They have been inseparable ever since that first meeting.
Raj was pulled back from his reverie as Jasmine threw her hands dramatically in the air saying, “Can I open my eyes. Phulzz.”
“Sure Jas.” He said smiling at her.
Her eyes widen and she clapped her hands a big smile spread across her face,” Wow Raj this is so nice.” She said excitedly looking at the sandwich and the juicy strawberries put neatly in a medium white lunch box.
He smiled satisfied at her reaction,” I made your favorite Nutella sandwich.” He said handing her the sandwich.
“Thank you, Raj.” she beamed and took a small bite of the sandwich.
He felt so happy seeing her enjoy the sandwich. He had to break his piggy bank to buy the Nutella and it was all worth it because he wanted to make this day special.
“Do you know what special day it is and why we are celebrating it?” he asked taking a bite of the sandwich.
“Yes. It is St. Valentine’s Day. We had a mass this morning at the boarding chapel in remembrance of him.”
“Yes, it is. But do you know that it is also the day where people around the world celebrate love.”
“Wait I know what you are talking about. Raj, we are not supposed to be doing this, I heard some big girls in the boarding talking about it and I asked my older sister Rebecca about it and she said those are for grown-ups like very big grown-ups.” She eyed him in a strict way.
He smiled shyly looking down at his half-eaten sandwich. His older siblings didn’t mind when he said he wanted to make Jasmine as his valentine. In fact, it was his older sister who bought the Nutella for him from the supermarket. She was the oldest and he the youngest of the four siblings. They all shared a very close bond with each other.
“I know Jas. But there is nothing wrong with saying I love you to someone and make that person your valentine and celebrate it with them.” Raj reasoned.
“But my sister said it is a sin. If she comes to know we are celebrating today like the grownups are she would ground me,” replied Jas sounding weary.
Sighing defeated he nodded in understanding,” Don’t worry Jas we will listen to your sister okay. But I want you to promise me that you will always be my Valentine and when we grow up we will celebrate it like the grownups.”
She smiled and gestured her small right finger towards him,” I promise Raj. Come on lock your finger with me.”
Raj was upset that he couldn’t convince Jasmine. But he was happy when she accepted his promise. Locking their small fingers together they giggled.
Releasing their fingers, Raj pulled out a rolled paper from his back bag tied with a red ribbon.
“What is that?” asked Jasmine curiously eyeing the rolled paper.
“Why don’t you open it and find out,” said Raj handing the rolled paper to her.
She took the rolled paper and untied the red ribbon and rolled out the paper neatly with her small palms, a smile formed as she saw the contents of the paper.
" You still haven’t decided what the color of our house would be so I painted it rainbow color just like the way you wanted.” tracing his fingers on the paper,” See this cottage I spend a lot of time trying to draw exactly the way you wanted and the lake and the flowers. The swans are not that perfect, I’m still yet to learn how to draw animals perfectly. But I’ll learn it by this year.” He said with great determination.
Rolling the paper, Jasmine beamed at Raj,” Oh Raj this is so beautiful, you are a brilliant artist. Thank you so much.” But her smile was quickly replaced by a frown when she realized she hadn’t prepared anything for Raj.
Sensing her frown,” What happen Jas you seemed upset.” his tone laced with worry.
“You got all these for me and I don’t have anything for you.” she pouted.
Slapping his forehead lightly with his right hand,” You don’t have to be upset about it Jas. I got all this for you because I want to see you smile and not to make you feel upset. Now smile and eat the strawberries, they are really sweet.” He picked up the most ripped one and gave it to her.
“Thank you, Raj. You are the best. I love you.” she said as she took a bite of the ripped strawberry.
“I love you too Jas,” replied Raj as he took a bite of the strawberry.
The eight meaningful letters were exchanged unconsciously between them. But of all these eight letters that were exchanged around the world that day. This was one of the purest that was to be exchanged foreshadowing the nurturing of a beautiful relationship that was in the process of building.
Once done eating they sat leaning on the tree, facing the vast playground where there were children of their age some even younger or a year older than them screaming and playing around the various recreational equipment.
A confused thought crossed Jasmine’s head facing him she asked him,” Raj why do you always write my home works with your left hand?”
A mischievous smile appeared on his face,” So that the teachers won’t find out. And they never did and never will.” he said with great pride but also a little weary because that was not the only reason behind it.
“I know that Raj. But you can easily write it with your right hand with small changes made. Why left.” She asked.
“It is easier that way Jas, zero chance of getting caught and besides it resembles your handwriting too.” Raj gasped the moment he let those last words slip out of his mouth.
Nodding in understanding,” I really do have a horrible handwriting don’t I. I try very hard to improve it, but it’s still very bad,” She looked down miserably plucking some grass.
Reaching out and holding her hands,” It’s okay Jas, I’m sure it will improve. And besides look at it in a positive way, at least we never get caught by the teachers and you don’t have to sit in detention.” He wiggled his brows animatedly at her which earned a giggle from her.
A loud shrill voice shifted their attention towards the playground,” Jasmine Madison, you come here right this instant. School is over and you are still lounging out there. It is nearly time for study. Chop chop come on now.” ordered the middle age Nun tugging her right hand in the pocket of her white habit.
“Oh, I hate studying.” groaned Jasmine as she got up.
“Don’t say that Jas. Studies are very important.” reprimanded Raj as he helped her put her back bag on her back.
“Okay okay. You don’t have to be so strict.” She rolled her eyes playfully.
“Jasmine.” called the Nun again.
“Coming Sister Ann,” she shouted towards the Nun.
“Bye Raj. I’ll see you tomorrow in class okay. Thank you so much for everything.”
“Bye Jas and remember the promise.” he reminded her.
She smiled at him nodding and ran towards the Nun.
Rajiv Sharma stood there smiling, as she walked away from him. He made a promise to himself that Jasmine Madison will always be his Valentine.