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Half Girlfriend(9)
Chetan Bhagat

‘What about you?’ I said. I adjusted my yellow T-shirt and blue jeans while she looked at the board. I had bought new clothes from Patna for St. Stephen’s. I didn’t look like a government office clerk anymore. I wanted to fit into my new college.

‘English,’ she said.‘Here, see, that’s my name.' Riya Somani, English (Hons), it said. My heart sank. A girl doing an English degree would never befriend a country bumpkin like me.

Her phone rang. She took out the sleek Nokia instrument from her jeans’ pocket.

‘Hi, Mom,’ she said in Hindi. ‘Yes, I reached. Yes, all good, just finding my way.’

Her Hindi was music to my ears. So I could talk to her. She spoke for a minute more and hung up to find me looking at her.

‘Moms, you know,’ she said.

‘Yes.You speak Hindi?’

She laughed. ‘You keep asking me that. Of course I do. Why?’

‘My English isn’t good,’ I said, and switched languages.‘Can I talk to you in Hindi?’

‘What you say matters, not the language,’ she said and smiled.

Some say there is an exact moment when you fall in love. I didn’t know if it was true before, but I do now. This was it. When Riya Somani said that line, the world turned in slow motion. I noticed her delicate eyebrows. When she spoke, they moved slightly. They had the perfect length, thickness and width. She would win a ‘best eyebrows’ competition hands down—or as we say in basketball, it would be a slam dunk.

Perhaps I should have waited to fall in love with her. However, I knew it was pointless. I had little control over my feelings. So from my first day in college, I was in love. Riya Somani, ace basketball player, English literature student, most beautiful girl on the planet, owner of extraordinary eyebrows and speaker of wonderful lines, had yanked my heart out of its hiding place.

Of course, I could not show it. I didn’t have the courage, nor would it be a smart idea.

We walked down a corridor towards our respective classrooms. I had her with me for two more minutes.

‘You made friends here?’ she said.

‘Not really,’ I said. ‘You?’

‘I have some classmates from school in Stephen’s. Plus, I am from Delhi, so have many friends outside.’

‘I hope I can adjust,’ I said. ‘I feel I don’t belong here.’

‘Trust me, nobody feels they do,’ she said. ‘Which residence did they give you?’

‘Rudra,’ I said.‘How about you?’

'They don’t give one to Delhiites. I’m a day-ski, unfortunately,’ she said, using the common term for day scholars.

We reached my classroom. I pretended not to see it and kept walking until she reached hers.

’Oh, this is my class,’ she said.‘Where’s yours?’

'I'll find out, go ahead,’ I said.

She smiled and waved goodbye. I wanted to ask her out for coffee, hut couldn’t. I could shoot a basket from half-court three times in a rmv but I could not ask a girl to come to the college cafeteria with me.

‘Basketball,’ I blurted out.

‘What?’

‘Want to play sometime?’ I recovered quickly.

‘With you? You’ll kick my ass,’ she said and laughed. I didn’t know why she felt I would kick her rear end or why she found the phrase funny. I joined her in the laughter anyway.

‘You play well,’ I said as we stood at her classroom door.

‘Okay, maybe after a few days, once we settle into classes,’ she said. She walked in for her first English lecture. The joy at the possibility of meeting her again made me forget I had a class. I wanted to dance in the garden.

The bell for the first period rang. ‘This isn’t sociology, right?’ I asked a clueless English student as he arrived late for his own class.

‘You are good. Really good,’ she said as she wiped her face with a towel.

We had played a half-court game; I defeated her 20-9.

‘I’m hopeless,’ she said. She took a sip from her water bottle. She wore a fitted sleeveless white top and purple shorts.

‘You’re fine. Just out of practice,’ I said.

She finished the water and shook the empty bottle. ‘I’m still thirsty,’ she said.

‘Cafe?’ I said.

She looked at me, somewhat surprised. I kept a straight face.

‘You get good juice there,’ I said in an innocent tone.

A swarm of students buzzed inside the cafeteria. Given that it was lunch hour, it took us five minutes to get a table. They didn’t have juice, so Riya settled for lemonade. I ordered a mince and cold coffee. I realized both ol us had a problem initiating conversation. I couldn’t talk because I didn’t have the confidence. She, given a choice, preferred to be quiet. Silent Riya, I wanted to call her. I had to break this deadlock if I wanted this to go anywhere. The waiter brought us our food.

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