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Half and hour later, she appeared, sweeping down the stairs in a transparent peach sari, which showed her taut and athletic body. Her lusciously moisturized hair swayed from side to side as she scouted about the room, looking for familiar faces.

Her kohl-lined eyes fluttered as she inhaled all the attention. This pretty girl was my friend-or so I always thought. Her name was Tina and she always looked perfect. I was always known as the girl who looked second best.

Until she had entered the foyer, people threw a few stares at me and one auntie even told me I had pretty hair, all of which did uplift my spirits. But as soon as Tina walked in it was over. Being two inches shorter than her and carrying a body much wobblier than hers always made me feel anything but attractive next to her.

I stood; hands folded, and watched the commotion over this fortress that had just walked into the room. “Tina you look amazing,” I said, joining in the commotion. There was no lying- she was a walking goddess.

I found myself a quiet corner away from the 'who's-hot-who's-not' arena. “Hello there”, emerged a sonorous voice from behind. I turned around and it was as if a vortex of flashlights had walked into me. I hadn't seen this ethereal a creature in a long time. His crisp baby blue shirt was a little ruffled from all the hugging and pulling but was still safely tucked in his pants, adorning his quasi-muscular frame impeccably.

His head was full of thick, shiny violet hair that shone under the light from the chandeliers. “I don't think I know you”, he said, coming closer to me. Of course he didn't. I mean, this was his brother's wedding reception party and I was his brother's friend's cousin. “Hi, I'm Raisa”, I uttered, wondering why on earth would he want to strike up a conversation with me when miss universe was just two feet away.

“I hope you're having a good time…please help yourself to some appetizers; dinner will be served shortly”, he said. Just as I was about to feel special, he reiterated the analogous question to all every other guest in the room. My newborn excitement extinguished immediately. But it was refreshing to see such warm hospitality.

“Hey Rais, did you see Armaan?” said Tina en route to the appetizer counter. “Who is Armaan”, I asked. “The groom's brother. Hello!” she said in that 'I-know-everything' tone, ostentatiously poking around the tiny samosa, which she would ultimately end up throwing. I was so dumbstruck when he was in front of me that I had even forgotten to ask his name.

“Yeah I saw him…I think he is so…” I continued with my feelings. “Well I have a major crush on him!” voraciously interrupted Tina. That's Tina for you- she was so self-centered that sometimes she would forget that other people exist in the world.

Tina always got whatever she wanted- from the finest clothes to the finest shoes. “You think he'll like me?” she asked batting her shimmer-laden eyelids.

I used to hate it when she'd ask questions like that. She knew the answer and still asked me. Ever since high school, boys had crushes on her and carved her name on desks with hearts everywhere. “Yes, I am sure he will like you, unless he has a girlfriend or likes someone else”, I said, staring at Armaan who was managing to exude warmth even from the ten feet that he was away from us. “I am going to go to the washroom to touch up my face…be back in a few”, she said and rushed to the washroom. As I continued feasting my eyes upon Armaan, he started walking towards me.

“Well hello again”, he said. I felt embarrassed like a ten-year old girl who got caught stealing in a departmental store. He then asked the anticipated question. “That girl… who was standing next to you… is she your friend?” I stopped gazing. It was time to let the realization sink in. It had happened before and I should have been immune to it by now.

“Yes she is, we went to school together but then she moved to London and now she is back, she also…” as I continued talking about Tina, he asked something that fell like an unexpected bout of sleet on my ears. “Would she mind if I stole you away from her for sometime…?”

All my stored-up endorphins started releasing rapidly and my palms became icy cold. “No” was what my spontaneous reply would have been. “I don't know…I think it's better if I asked her“ came out instead. I saw Tina make her way toward us, smoothing out her hair and flashing her pearly whites. “Hey Armaan…Armaan right?” popped Tina. “Hi Tina, your friend has told me a lot about you”, he said, glancing at Tina and looking right back at me.

It was the first time that someone looked at me instead of just glancing at me. “We were just waiting for you and wanted to ask if…” I had to think of something before he said it. “I have to go right now,” I snapped off. “Hey…Rais…what about me?” said Tina looking at me with piercing eyes. “Oh you stay!…I have to go to work early tomorrow”, I said and hurried out of the hall. Out of the moment that could have been mine.

The next morning I woke up to the loud shrill of my alarm clock. I rubbed my eyes and looked into the mirror. This was the first time that I felt differently about myself. The pangs of misery I had felt being second best had suddenly disappeared.

While I knew that I had ended my chance, I was happy just knowing that I too was desirable to some extent. I turned on a romantic song and imagined dancing with Armaan in front of the mirror. “Tring Tring” rang my cell phone. It was Tina. “Hello” she uttered in a mellow tone. “What happened?” I asked. “You were right Rais…he probably does like someone else”, she said.

“After you left he got busy talking to his family and other friends…I felt like such a fool”, she continued.

I was in a fit. I didn't know whether he liked me or was just being hospitable. It had never happened before that someone would not take Tina's number. She was that pretty. A flurry of thoughts raced through my mind. “It's alright Tina, it's not the end of the world…you will get someone much better than him” I comforted her and invited her over for some milkshake.

As I was chopping the bananas and strawberries, the doorbell rang. “Maa can you get that?” I yelled from the kitchen. I entered the living room in my tattered t-shirt and yellow pajamas, to welcome Tina. It was Armaan. He was looking more gorgeous than last night.

“You left your bracelet in the hall”; he said getting up from the sofa. “Let me get you something to drink”, maa said and left for the kitchen. “This isn't my bracelet and how did you know my address?” I asked. “Yeah it's my sisters and I got your address from my brother's friend” he said in a serious tone. “I had to talk to you Raisa…you left like I said something wrong”. My eyes caught the clock as I was staring into his coffee brown eyes-it was almost 4pm. Tina would be here any minute.

I became jittery and started envisioning how Tina would feel if she saw Armaan in my house. “Armaan, give me your cell phone number…I will call you”, I said and bid him a forceful goodbye. “I'll be waiting”, he said and walked out the door leaving an intoxicating whiff of fresh laundry behind.

Not big on punctuality, Tina arrived half an hour late. She looked pestilent. Tina, although enchantingly beautiful, could look grotesque if irked to the slightest degree. “I really want to know why he would dismiss me?” she said, settling down at the kitchen counter.

“I even told him how good he looked and asked for his email address…that's hint enough isn't it?” she continued venting. It was creeping up, the dubious look on my face. I was a novice when it came to hiding emotions. “What's wrong?” she asked, filing the edges of her meticulously manicured nails. The next words sprang out like a swarm of bees when their beehive gets knocked down.

“When you went to the washroom… Armaan asked me if he could hang out with me for sometime…just me”, I blurted in pauses, worryingly. Tina stared at me like I was a third-class citizen trying to gain entry into a foreign country illegally. When I offered to explain further she lifted her hand up in disapproval and left without saying anything.

The next one week I didn't hear from Tina. Although I had taken Armaan's cell phone number, I didn't call him. It was Wednesday and I had just returned from shopping to tranquilize myself of all the guilt I was feeling from last week. I didn't succeed, I still felt burdened. But then I quieted myself and thought: is it really my fault?

The only thing that I had always wanted became true and I was blaming myself for it? I entered the living room and saw the most unexpected person. It was Tina. She looked frail and lethargic, like one would look after hours of relentless crying. “Hey, I am sorry about last week…I was just being silly”, she said. But that wasn't explanation enough for me. This was probably the only time that someone preferred me to her and she couldn't let go off that as well?

“I always thought that there exists only one type of measurement in this world, the measurement of beauty”, she continued, her head tilted down. “I am so sorry Raisa, I feel so ashamed just sitting here in front of you”. I hugged her, letting all ill feelings melt into my ever-forgiving lipid-rich body. “Please tell me you called Armaan…please tell me you called him last week”, she started bawling.

Although Tina had the 'turn-over-a-new-leaf' act down impromptu, something wasn't right. As far as I knew her, she would never cry without a valid reason. Ever. “No I didn't…I couldn't…after I felt that I hurt you, I just couldn't call him”, I said, holding her hands.

She hugged me and started shivering. “Armaan met with a car accident last week…” she said, her face pressed into my shoulder. “…He didn't survive.” Suddenly I felt disgusted with the tears that my shirt was sodden from. Here was a girl, who was never really my friend, but someone who merely used my presence to feel superior. It took one person's life for Tina to realize what a feelings vixen she was. I never spoke to Tina again.

Armaan never left my mind or heart. The man had asked for a smidgen of my time not knowing that it was his whose time was short. I never knew what he really thought of me but I would like to assume that he liked me in a special way. I never forgot him because every time I peek into the mirror I am reminded of the man who so solemnly made me feel that I too am enviable.

By Nafisa Mahmood


 
 

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