Waiting

Based on a true story.’

Those words always magnify whatever you’re supposed to feel about something: you become more terrified of a horror story, you sympathize more with the main character who’d been diagnosed with an incurable disease, you feel offended on the behalf of a character who faced prejudice. All because those words make everything all the more real. But what about a tale of friendship that’s ‘based on a true story’? What would we feel then? Let’s find out.

I don’t remember how I met my best friend, and truth be told, I don’t even know when or how we became best friends. I don’t even know when it was official that we were each other’s best friends. It was almost like entering a relationship you could say, because we went from friends, to that grey area where you’re not sure what you are exactly, to explicitly agreeing that you are now exclusively the other person’s special individual.

In the case of me and my best friend, we met because of our parents. The earlier years of our friendship, from how we met and everything, were a blur. It wasn’t that it happened so fast, but that we were both too young to remember much. We hadn’t even started kindergarten yet, and we were introduced, because we were the only children at that particular gathering, and our parents were good friends.

We were classmates in kindergarten, which I suppose facilitated our friendship, and we were as good as sisters. That was the ‘grey area’ period. In my heart, she was already my best friend, but we never said it. I liked to think that I was her best friend too. We popped by each other’s homes a lot, and would stay over all day, from after breakfast to before bedtime. Maybe in those days the reason why we didn’t explicitly decide we were best friends was because we were more than best friends. We were sisters with no blood relation. We were sisters from different parents. But we were sisters all the same.

I was as good as a part of her family. Her parents would take me shopping, cook lunch for me, take me to places with them, and my family treated her the same way. There were also occasions where both our families would go on holidays together. She was my other half, and we were always seen together. And I loved her unconditionally.

When our younger sisters were born in the same year, we were delighted: they could be best friends too. Our families would grow even closer. But that was not to be: our sisters never formed the kind of bond that the two of us shared.

After leaving kindergarten, things started to change, but it happened so slowly that neither of us noticed it. We would never notice it without looking back on the old days and comparing the past to the present.

In the first year of us no longer being classmates, for I skipped a year, I stuck to my best friend and all the people from kindergarten that I knew. I clung to the familiar, and most particularly my best friend. The result was that I felt a fault line between me and my new classmates. When I attempted to spend more time with them to feel like I belonged, they told me to choose: my new classmates or my old ones. The decision that felt right, was obvious. I could never abandon my best friend for the sake of fitting in.

Four years down the road, we hardly talked. I don’t know what happened there. We didn’t fight, but we hardly saw each other. She had her friends and I had mine. It happened so suddenly, and since the ‘best friends’ declaration hadn’t been explicit, we never thought to look into it. We never thought to address why we suddenly became so distant, and almost as good as strangers. It was in that year, and because we were still in that fuzzy ‘grey zone’, that I had a new best friend, and we declared our best friends status explicitly.

Like me, she had a best friend she had been inseparable with. Like me, there was suddenly an unexplained fault in their friendship, and maybe that was why we declared ourselves ‘best friends’. Losing someone to that strange thing called distance, even when that distance was psychological rather than physical, and with no reason or explanation for it, we cling onto something, something familiar and unshakeable. We both clung to each other in that time of need. She needed a best friend and I needed a best friend, and we were the answer to each other’s prayers.

But like any relationship that you rush into, we didn’t last. Even before our status as ‘best friends forever’ ended, I noticed fault lines in our friendship as well. There were times when I felt hurt by her words, and I don’t doubt I may have managed to hurt her myself. As the year drew to an end, and my first best friend’s birthday approached, it occurred to me that I still loved her more. She was still my sister, and sisters had to forgive and forget, sisters had to stand by each other and come together eventually, given time. My new best friend got back her original best friend, and so did I. It was all water under the bridge.

By then, it was quite clear we were best friends again. But still, there was no open declaration about it. There were times when I missed being ‘best friends’ with my best-friend-for-a-year, but I was glad to have my old best friend back. And perhaps I didn’t miss being ‘best friends’ with that temporary best friend of mine, but rather I missed the memories, and felt a year had been wasted not being able to spend it with the best friend from my childhood.

I might have got my best friend back, but the sad truth was: we never got back to the way things used to be. The visits to each other’s homes became almost scarce, and break times were spent with our own classmates. And instead of spending all our mutual free time with each other, we spent it getting to know other people. We had reached the age where quantity trumped quality when it came to friends. And I saw her through a different lens.

It occurred to me that my best friend was pretty, even exceptionally so. It occurred to me that she was one of those people who would be popular, while people didn’t really pay as much attention to me. She was the popular girl, and I was a wallflower. She played the star of the show, with her pretty face and pretty voice, and I was the supporting character, the background performer. She was the hero and I was the sidekick. She was the Harry Potter, the one everyone knew and admired, while I was the Ron Weasley, living in her shadow. She was Frodo, the bearer of the Ring, and I was Sam, devoted and loyal to her, but in the end, I would never be the Hero. It’s a fact that equal affection cannot be, and the more loving one was me.

When my parents told me we’d be moving away, my world shattered. How could I leave behind the best friend who had grown to be a part of me? In our final term together, things almost got back to the way they were. Almost. We spent our free time together whenever we could. We set aside particular after school hours exclusively for each other. And as childish as it seemed, we agreed to wear the same style on Thursdays. And I followed that rule religiously. But I noticed that, after a while, she didn’t. We talked for hours, and visited each other’s classrooms, and shared all kinds of dreams and fears. Each was the other one’s human diary, for her to pour out her heart and soul.

After separation came, my best friend and I sent messages to each other, even if it meant getting told off for wasting phone credit for sending messages to a foreign number. In our first year apart, we talked as if things hadn’t changed. And I suppose in a way they hadn’t, for we had very idealistically, innocently, believed that distance was a test of how far love can travel, and we were both acing that test.

Yet, when I finally found the courage to share with her a secret dream of mine, my life ambition, I didn’t get the support I had expected from her. She didn’t laugh at my dream the way I expected my old classmates to, if there was anything about her reaction I should be thankful for, and she definitely didn’t put my dream down. But she sounded skeptical. Almost sarcastic. I didn’t mention the dream to her again. But her reaction had cut me deep. Why couldn’t she be happy for my dream? Why couldn’t she have supported it? Sometimes we have high expectations of those we call our best friends, because we are willing to do that much for them, and when the sentiment isn’t reciprocated, we feel nothing short of disappointed. And that sort of disappointment wounds.

The second year after our separation, things took a down turn. There was what felt like this excruciatingly long period where I sent her messages, through SMS, through Facebook, but all that I got from her was complete silence. And silence cuts deeper than hatred. If you’re hated, at least you know you’re on someone’s mind. But if you’re ignored, you as good as no longer exist to the person. I wondered if my best friend had moved on to a life, a sphere of existence that I was not a part of, and could never hope to enter.

That was the year I felt most alone. Even when I finally felt like I belonged in my new school, and made lots of new friends, and even if these new friends were a good deal more accepting of my quirks, the fact that my best friend, my non-blood sister, no longer talked to me, made me feel like I was spiraling into a void, into the great dark hole called Oblivion. She had always been the one thing that mattered the most. She was the thing I most treasured.

So I waited. I would not stop waiting. I didn’t search for someone else I could call my best friend. I waited for her answer, as faithfully as a dog waits for his master to come home. I waited, recalling the little rift in our friendship that had lasted a year. I waited, knowing she would answer me sooner or later, and that once I got her back, the wait would be worth it.

The answer to my questions came as the year drew to an end: my best friend had been grounded, and by the looks of things, it was really bad. She had started seeing this boy, and once her parents found out, her phone was taken away, and she was not allowed to use any form of electronic communication. But I didn’t receive this news from my best friend. I received it from another friend, who was asked to relay the message because my best friend was still unable to reach me.

The news may have taken a great weight off me, but in its place, a new weight crashed down. I always knew this day would come, but I never bothered to prepare for it, and now that it came, I was thrown off balance yet again, just when I thought I’d regained my footing. Would she love this boy more than me? Would he take my place as the person she would ‘exclusively’ devote her time to? Against my will, relief gave way to jealousy. I felt a surge of dislike for this individual I knew nothing about. He had become my rival for her time and attention.

The year after, I was able to talk to her again. We even took it up a notch by arranging when we could meet online, and video chat. That nightly activity went on until the following year, after which we went back to just exchanging messages. She told me about another boy, and this time I was genuinely delighted for her. I didn’t ask about the first one, the one who had roused my jealousy, but I somehow had a feeling I would like this new boy in her life. Or maybe, after the first shock, the second time such news came, I was prepared for it. We’d grown up. But she was still top priority on my list of friends.

Six years after I had moved away, her replies either grew less frequent, or she simply took ages to reply. I had assumed it was simply because she wasn’t with her phone much. I was sure she had other things to do than just stare at her phone all day. But when I managed to visit her in person, I saw that she indeed did have her phone with her, as good as all the time. Her phone relentlessly buzzed with notifications, and she answered them. So I wondered: why were her replies to me never as immediate? I hadn’t been so close to her in years, yet she had never felt so far away before that realisation hit me.

I had a wonderful three days sleeping over at my best friend’s place, and having dinner with her family during my visit. And for a while, things almost felt like how they used to be, prior my move. Staying with her and the rest of her family for those three days, and seeing some of our old friends again, drove that sense of distance into the back of my mind. She was here, in the present, right before me, and that was what mattered. I got my sister back, even if it was only for a while.

After I left yet again, things went back to the way they had been: the long waits, the short replies. And sometimes, the only reply she gave me was complete silence. They say technology brings far away people closer together, but between me and my best friend, even with all the technology in the world, she felt an entire universe away. I couldn’t reach her.

I don’t know why I’m still holding on. The silence has been deafening, and she rarely breaks it. I hear news about her from others, and not from her. Something had come between us, though I don’t know when that had happened, or why. I just know that the fond golden memories of the times I had with her, have transformed themselves into chains, and they bind me to her. Sometimes I feel I should let go. The rational part of me tells me to let go. And yet, I am waiting.

Those gold chains are only in my mind. They don’t exist in reality. I have a choice, and I know I have the choice: to stay and keep on waiting for the answer that may never come, or to walk away. But the power of my own mind scares me sometimes, for I have chosen to stay. Her reply will come, and I am waiting…