The next morning Ria woke up early and got ready for her practice. She was in school by 0630. She sat on a step in the basketball ground from where she could see if anyone was coming. The school was empty. Couple of minutes later she saw someone come in a bicycle. It was Sanjay. He parked his cycle and waved at her. She waved back at him. He came and sat beside her. “Good morning”, he said with a grin. “Good morning”, said Ria.
“Been here since long?”, he asked.
“No I just came”, she said. “So what do we do here in practice?”, she asked.
“We first go jogging for about twenty minutes to thirty minutes. Warming up. Then we race each other in batches.”
“Boy, had I known…”, she said
“Don’t worry, we’ll have fun. He’ll normally ask us to be in pairs during practice.”
“Oh, you got a pair?”, she asked
“Normally I run with Naveen. But he is not supposed to run for a few months, he broke his ankle last month. So this year I decided to pair up with you”, he said smiling. She smiled back at him.
“So how is the catching up going? Were you able to finish any of the syllabuses?”
“A little yes. I had been to Adila’s house last evening and she helped me catch up a little here and there”
“If you need anything, feel free to ask me”, he said.
“Thank you”, she said.
“How would you like to come over to my house today? You can take the load off Ads”, he said
“Thank you very much. I’d like that”, said Ria. She liked Sanjay very much. He was very friendly. He made Ria feel as though he were much older to her, more like a grown up and was even a little protective towards her.
One by one more children trickled in and the games master too arrived just in time. Practice was very tiring. But it was only for two hours unlike other practices that went on all morning, and the others didn’t have to come this early. The runners could go home after their practice and change into their uniforms and come back post lunch. So they got more rest compared to the others.
“See, I told you it’s more fun here”, said Sanjay.
The classes went on like they had the previous day.
In the evening Ria went over to Sanjay’s house much to Adila’s disgust. Sanjay had a little sister who was very cute. She was about five years old and very naughty. She just wouldn’t let go of Ria until Sanjay had to pick her up and shut her out of the room. Ria felt bad for the little girl, but she had to study as well. Sanjay’s house was very cozy. It was more like a little cottage that belonged to the three bears in Goldilocks. But his parents were rather cold to her unlike Adila’s mother who fussed over Ria to no end. Sanjay’s father did not even acknowledge Ria’s presence and never took his eyes off the television. His mother ran into the kitchen soon after she opened the door for them. Ria felt a little awkward and out of place in this house and wished she were back in her house or even Adila’s house for that matter. His mother popped in just once to give her some tea and biscuits. Ria was a little surprised, her mother never let her drink tea or coffee. She politely refused and his mother took it back without any expression on her face. That made Ria feel all the more uncomfortable.
She managed to copy down one subject and wanted to leave. Sanjay insisted he teach her the math portions as well. She made an excuse that she had already done it in her previous school and that her father would be coming home early and she wanted to be home before that and she dashed out.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she was all by herself on the streets. She rode around the township for some time until her head cleared and then she headed home. She saw Adila standing out of her house and playing with her kittens. Ria decided to stop over there for a bit.
Adila gave her a questioning look. Ria sat on the doorstep and cuddled a kitten. “So?”, asked Adila.
“What?”, asked Ria.
“You back so soon”, she said.
“Yeah, I copied about one subject. I was in no mood to finish the rest so I came back”, she said.
“Girlie”, said Adila. “You have no time for no moods. There is quite a bit for you to finish”, she said. “Ok, maybe I’ll copy it from you a little later”, said Ria. Adila gave her a sly smile and sat down beside her.
“What happened?”, she asked.
“Well, I was feeling damn uncomfortable in his house I couldn’t even concentrate”, said Ria.
Adila grinned at her. “That is why I don’t go to his house. His parents don’t approve of anyone visiting him”, she said.
“But you don’t even talk to him or anyone else in class”, said Ria.
“Well, I used to, but they are very snobbish and cheeky and I don’t like that about them”, said Adila. “They keep teasing me and it makes me sad”, she said.
“They tease you because you feel sad. You laugh back and see what happens”, said Ria. “It used to be that ways with me in my other school, boys always teased me. Then one day I just laughed back instead of feeling hurt. That changed the entire thing. They still teased me but it was in a more friendly manner”, said Ria. Adila looked at her with full of admiration. “Where’s your mother?”, asked Ria.
“Right behind you”, said Adila’s mother hugging Ria from behind. “How was school today?”, she asked kissing her on her cheek.
“Good aunty”, said Ria. It definitely felt good to be back to some warmth.
That evening Ria gave her school updates to both her parents over dinner. Her father was very happy that she liked this place and the school. He was worried about his frequent transfers and hated to do this to his wife and daughter, but he was left with no choice. “Please papa, let’s not move out of this place EVER”, said Ria as if reading his thoughts. He smiled at her fondly. “I hope so too little one. I hope so too”, he said.