With a view from above, you’d see the school ground filled with flying graduation caps and camera flashes. If you weaved through the crowd you’d hear the camera clicks which were drowned in the sounds of laughter. People tugged you to their group, and all you could do was smile as the flash went off. Cheers rang out.
Despite being about 10 years ago, she remembered that day almost vividly.The lights of the oncoming traffic on the other side of the road reminded her of the camera flashes that didn’t seem to stop that day. They came from every angle as people hugged each other, laughed together and created some of the best memories. She had received a certificate of merit earlier that evening. As she waited in line, she heard her name called out and excitedly walked up the stairs to the stage amongst loud applause. She remembered thinking, “What a feeling! I’ve graduated!”
A blaring horn brought her back to reality, when she thought about where she was headed. That was the last day she’d seen most of the people she would come face to face with today, at her high school reunion.
As she entered the hotel lobby, she spotted the sign welcoming her class of 2004 – it was then that she wished it would have been held at her school auditorium instead – her school milestones took place in that very auditorium – first school play, board exams, graduation – it all happened there. She tried shrugging off the sense of uneasiness that slowly crept over her as she walked to the ballroom and thought, “I haven’t kept in touch with these people at all. What am I doing here?” It was only through Facebook that she even knew what they looked like now. That social networking site seemed to be the only bit of glue that was holding a very old rickety school bench together.
A girl in the distance just entering the ballroom caught her eye. She was the popular one – all the boys wanted to get to know her, all the girls wanted to be her friend. She thanked her stars she wasn’t part of her entourage back then. She could immediately picture herself walking down the quad with this girl more than 15 years ago. “I like your jacket. Your fashion sense has improved,” she had said back then. Sharon quickly checked her reflection in a hallway mirror. “Yes,” she thought, “I’m dressed for the occasion.”
At the registration desk, she spotted one of her classmates. She remembered her being awarded the scholarship. Yes, Denise was the smart one, and it seemed like there was no deterioiration. Sharon thought back to the time when she topped her class, but then witnessed a small decline, which was when Denise caught up. There were no hard feelings there; Sharon was sure she never wanted to be the smartest. She was just proud of the fact that she had managed to balance her studies with her social life. Sharon immediately recollected being the one to help Denise solve an Excel problem in IT class. She still held pride in that and cunningly wondered if she should lead their conversation with that. “Denise! Long time! When was the last time we met? Was it in the IT lab when I helped you?” Sharon smiled to herself, knowing fully well that she would never stoop that low.
“Sharon! Welcome! How have you been?” She had been ready for this – seemingly shocked faces amidst short excited screeches. Denise didn’t let out a screech but Sharon could hear them from inside the ballroom. “Denise! It’s been going good, can’t complain,” Sharon replied with a smile, “how are things with you?” It was then that she wondered if she really cared. “Oh they are going great… Just in the midst of being headhunted by a rival bank. You know how it is. Heard you’re a writer in India. What have you written? Anyway, I’ll catch up with you inside. Don’t want to delay the line,” Denise abruptly ended. Sharon was ever thankful. She almost contemplated running out of the hotel. “Can I really get through a whole night with people second guessing my occupation, throwing their success in my face, and claiming they want to read my work,” she thought as she edged towards the entrance of the ballroom. “Well, here goes nothing!”
She barely had both feet in the room, when she noticed that the distinctions in school still prevailed. The fashionistas were huddled together, with a guy on their arm, the bookish ones were formally dressed, like they had just flown in from a meeting with the President, and before Sharon could take a good look around the room, she spotted him – her high school crush. Unfortunately, he always remained just a crush; she could never muster the courage to tell him. In high school, he did all the right things – he was in the school football team, played the guitar and had a voice that almost compared to Vedder’s and that itself was more than enough to bring Sharon to her knees. “Could he still sing like that? Did he start a band like he told me he wanted to?” Sharon thought, as she went back in time. They had common friends, so they had hung out at parties together a couple of times, and even though they got along really well, Sharon never thought of telling him she was crushing on him. She feared rejection too much. Standing in the balloom, she looked him up and down and wondered if there was anything more to him that the guitar and his soulful voice. After all, music was all they ever spoke about in school.
Her reveries was disrupted by shrieks which erupted from her right. As soon as she recognised one person, she immediately knew who all she was about to meet. Despite always being together in school, they didn’t come across as being the tightest group in school. Sure, they had their ups and downs, but Sharon remembered thinking that most of their interactions with each other seemed fake. Fake – the reason she had left this city, the reason she never felt the need to return, the sole reason she felt most uncomfortable attending this gathering. They began exchanging pleasantries – What are you doing, where are you staying, etc. That didn’t last for too long; within about 5 minutes, Sharon had caught up with the whole group. Then came the only thing they had in common now – school. While they animatedly spoke about the teachers and principal, Sharon drifted off. She looked at each of them and realised that had she not come for the reunion, she would have been able to guess what they were doing – one was married, the other engaged, another laughed at the two in a committed relationship; she was the carefree one. It seemed like they stepped right out of Sex and the City. What intrigued Sharon was that while she spoke about her job and life in Mumbai, the entire group spoke about their relationship status – perhaps that was why she found them to be so fake – the peak of their lives was just that.
As she excused herself in search of anyone who she truly got along with, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She didn’t have time to process her thoughts before he sang in a husky voice, “And I don’t want the world to see me, cause I don’t think that they’d understand. Sharon! It’s truly been a long time.” Sharon found herself blushing just like she did 15 years ago at this guitar-playing, soulful-singing high school crush of hers. “Wow! His voice has definitely matured, if that was even possible,” she thought to herself, as she flashbacked to the day they spoke about the song. They had met each other at a common friend’s barbeque at the beach. Just after the first batch of meat was ready, they had taken their plates and wandered off together to the spray of rocks that dotted the beach. Standing in front of him today, she couldn’t believe that he actually remembered that night.”Duncan,” she laughed as she hugged him, “so nice to see you again!” As they pulled away, she remembered how flustered she used to get every time she met him in school. But circumstances were different now. They immediately caught up with their lives, and to her utmost disappointment, he wasn’t in a band – that dream never materialised. He was an investment banker. What reassured her was that he did occasionally strum his guitar. As she started telling him about her books, he interrupted her saying that he had read her books, much to her surprise. Yes, the blood rushed to her cheeks as she blushed again. As they walked to the bar to get a drink, they discussed how both their lives had taken a complete turn since high school. Sharon had never showcased her writing in school – everything she wrote was too personal back then. Duncan had never been financially strong either. But here they were, investment banker of a top bank, and an author of 3 novels. Times had definitely changed. After what felt like just a few minutes later, a girl interrupted them, and Sharon recognised her as a senior from school. Duncan introduced her as his fiance; they had met at his previous company, and immediately bonded. Six years later, here they were – ready to take the plunge. After being cordial for a few moments, she thought back to the day in school, when she had found out he was dating someone. She had been crushed to say the least. She laughed about it as she politely excused herself.
As she walked away, she heard a familiar voice call out to her from the other side of the bar, “Looking for someone?”
Sharon smiled at the familiarity, which she had been looking for all evening, and walked towards her with a spring in her step. The girl who called out to her was dressed in a peach backless dress, looking as beautiful as she always did. The other girl wore a purple figure hugging tube dress, which she fit into perfectly. The three guys looked one better than the other. “Men can never go wrong with formals, blazers or suits – they look nothing but gorgeous,” she thought. Hugs and kisses passed around, and Sharon finally felt comfortable. Each hug was so comforting, so genuine. That was it – the 6 of them were together again. Slowly she realised that she hadn’t been in touch with some of those standing around her – but what amazed her was that it didn’t matter. They had been through a lot together, they grew up together, they meant the world to each other. As Sharon looked at each one, she thought back to the time they last interacted. She remembered calling one of them when her father passed away; another one when he got a well-deserved job promotion; the other when she needed writing advice; another an hour back discussing their anticipations of the night. When she looked at the last one, she remembered him proposing to her last fortnight. She caressed the ring on her finger with her thumb as she squeezed his hand with her other hand. A knowing glance up at him calmed her nerves.
There was no reason why she shouldn’t have come to the reunion. After all, she got the chance to catch up with those who really mattered. Just like in school, every social situation was so much more tolerable with her dysfunctionals around. Her nerves were calmed, her heart rate back to normal, life like it used to be. Everything was perfect.
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