by Manahill Naik
This Saturday morning, after a royal breakfast of 2 egg-yolks omelette, slapdashed with caramelised onions, breakfast sausages and grated mozarella, I curve my scrubbed knees upto my chest as I hunch my shoulders forward in the bath tub.
I grab the worn-out bath brush that leaves stingy scratches after every scrub. 
I glance at my left arm where my best friend Asuka had thickly markered in blue "Asuka [heart] Aoyama."
I remember her writing it at recess when we sat under the shadiest tree in our school and I was passionately studying for a language test I was to have in a few minutes time. 
It's weird how Asuka always manages to draw perfectly shaped and identical hearts like the one she drew on my arm. It even has three short curved lines above the right hump of the heart that makes it look like its beating. Beating and alive. 

I hastily dampen the bath brush, coat its bristles with my purple shower gel and begin to scrub my arm in order to remove the piece of art Asuka has carved on to me.

After several seconds of passionate scrubbing I realize two things:
Number one: Asuka had used a permanent marker.
Number two: I'd rather have my arm scratched by Copper (my cat) than a sucking shabby bath brush.

So I give up the attempt to remove it altogether.
I dip my arm inside the bath tub as the scented water kisses the miserable scratches and soothe it down.
I run my fingertips over the writing on my arm. "Asuka [heart] Aoyama".
It wouldn't fade away and then it feels like reminiscing all those good old memories that continue resist fading away from the core of our minds. 
                          *  *  *  *
One day, when we were no taller than our walkie talkie dolls, Asuka and I sat on the deck of her uncle's ship. 
We live close to the sea and every Sunday is "Deck day".
She crossed her legs, tracing the hem of her floral blouse, that I so loved, from her fingertip. I stuck my legs between the painted railing of the deck, allowing them to dangle to the other side. Asuka's uncle balanced a pickle on his peanut butter sandwich and I began to form news paper boats till he was done eating and till we began cruising.

I made two news paper boats. One that had a Coca Cola advertisement over it and the other that showed a fake picture smile of a model advertising for invisible braces. 

"I'm going to put pickles for the fish inside the boats." I reported to Asuka who nodded at me. 
I grabbed a pickle and sliced it into slightly smaller and amorphous pieces and shoved it around the claustrophobic internal area of the paper boat, getting all giddy at the idea.
"The bigger fish will share it with the smaller fish and they'll become friends. We've done the good deed of the week haven't we Asuka?" 

Asuka nodded again as she pushed her pale legs beside mine, moving them to and fro.
"1.2.3." I chanted throwing both paper boats simultaneously in the vast sea.
In a moment or so, the boats sunk with the weight of pickles in them.
I wasn't a cry baby. Ever. However, watching the boats sink so meaninglessly, involuntarily, clouded my eyes and made me sniff as our ship began to leave the harbour. Steadily. 
"The fish aren't going to be friends anymore." I said.

Asuka clasped my hand. She leaned in and whispered in my right ear "We should be glad our friendship, our-ship, isn't sinking, no Aoyama?"
Asuka has always been wise somehow but not wise enough to know paper boats sink with pickles in them and fish don't eat pickles. 

We realized after growing a bit, shoving weight inside the paper boats more than the weight of itself is the cause of its meaningless sinking. 
[Never pull too hard at daisies to make them scatter with the wind.]
                            *  *  *  * 
One day, when we were bold enough to climb trees, we packed ourselves a wooden picnic basket of marble cakes and strawberry milk and bicycled up the Daisy Hill, our family vacation spot.
It became so steep at a point where we had to slide off of our bikes and walk.

I remember how the sun roasted the back of our heads with such intensity I could barely touch my hair. But we kept on going. It was hot and I hate to talk when I'm hot. So didn't Asuka, I reckoned. 
We kept on climbing the steepness of the hill in utter silence, me, stopping occasionally after having spotted a slightly larger than normal daisy and Asuka continuing the trail because she isn't really a fan of plucking flowers. "It's almost like killing a person", she'd say.

After having reached the highest point of the hill laden with daisies that looked like fried sunny side up eggs, all we could hear was Asuka and me panting and the heated fragranced air rustling our pony tails. 
We sat over the spongy grass that always felt greener than the grass in my backyard and Asuka being supergood at doll house tea parties, lined the marble cakes on styrofoam plates and poured the strawberry milk in paper cups which glistened like cherryblossoms under the scorching sun. 
When we were done licking our fingers, I raced toward the tallest tree in the area that we had named as Mr.Tall tree since we started visiting that place every summer, years ago.

Every year, we desperately waited to go back and climb Mr.Tall tree and hang along its branches singing sing-alongs.
I dug my shoes in the hollows of the bark and began hauling myself up.

I'm not sure how up I was when my hand lost it's grip and I fall down, and then the spongy grass didn't feel so spongy after my head bumped the ground as my knee scratched down across the shaggy bark. I shut my eyes for a moment or so as Asuka towered over me.
I couldn't quite explain the expression on her face. It was inexplicable natural.

She helped me prop my back up against the tree trunk and tied my wounded knee with her cotton waist belt. 

I was scared. It was a long way downhill and I knew I couldn't make it back with a sprained ankle. 
I told Asuka I would have to stay there and it would get dark and creepy and she clasped my hand and hooked her right pinky with mine and promised to stay with me through the dark.

We spent three hours sitting straight and singing sing-alongs at the base of Mr.Tall tree, crumbling the left over marble cakes into paper cups and pouring strawberry milk over it and then stabbing it with our forks. We called it as the "The marblerry stew." It has been our official favourite dish since then.  Asuka weaved the daisies that I plucked earlier to form an intertwined flower tiara. "This way the daisies would have a purpose after having been plucked." She said as she planted it at the top of my head.

Luckily, a local woodcutter came up the path before the dark of the evening finagled the Sun to set and it felt so much like the Red Riding Hood tale as he generously agreed to scoop me in his arms and carry me downhill. 

Before leaving, I held Asuka's hand and whispered in her right ear, "I'm sorry for ruining our day. You didn't even get to climb Mr.Tall tree."
She held my hand tighter and whispered back in my right ear, "Aren't we coming back next summer, Aoyama?"
[Keep on holding hands.]

                                                                            *  *  *  *

One day, when we were old enough to understand what stress was and how adults use caffeine and smoke to wash it down, Asuka and I signed up for our school's cross country race.
Asuka stays in library during P.E. class where as I'm quite athletic.

That is the only class in the entire day at school where we get separated and immerse ourselves, individually, in what we love.   
Our school holds a cross country race every year and despite of being athletic, I never join for a reason I consider quite strong. I fear the blow of the whistle when we have to stand behind the start line.

In primary, when we had sack races, I remember how I used to wait for the blow of the whistle, quivering. The hammering of my heart used to break through my ribcage with the blow.
I could never summon myself to run as soon as the whistle was blown. My brain couldn't process the stimuli immediately and I was always late, hence I always lost. 
I never cried but I always wanted to. 

Asuka asked "Aoyama, how long has it been since you last ran?"
"Long enough for me to forget when I last ran."
"I think you might've gotten better at handling the fear of the heartache that the blowing of the whistle causes, over the time, right?"
"I doubt."
"You never know what wonders you can do unless you try and it's not always about conquering-"
I broke her mid sentence. 
"Let's sign up for cross country together."
It lit her eyes. 

I remember how we approximised the day that we were left with for practise. One month and nine days. 

I also remember how every evening, five-thirty P.M. sharp, we used to head for the Willow Bridge dressed in sweat pants and converse. 
Willow Bridge has a cemented pathway underneathe it that nobody ever comes across. 
We ran under the bridge for one month and nine days, cementing our staminas, controlling uncontrollable breath rates and of course, me, trying to get over the blowing whistle phobia. 
After one month and nine days,  we stood before the start line. Asuka and me held hands for a moment or so and the whistle blew as soon as we let go.

My adrenaline rushed a marathon more speedily than I stabilised myself. Only then , I realized I hadn't gotten over my fear. My heart was still kicking my ribs from inside like a miserable child wanting to buy something he knows he can't buy.

I sealed my eyes and ran as fast as I could, watching Asuka and the others cover steps and steps I was left with to trod upon.
Asuka won and I was persistent enough to cross the finish line even though I was the last one to do so. 
By the time we returned from the changing rooms, it had begun pelting humongous dollops of rain. 
I was upset and heartbroken.

I wanted to cry and also tell Asuka that she was wrong about me trying and finding my inner abilities. 
We loved rain and even though we had an umbrella , we walked bare under the wet sky.
"Do you feel like crying?" she asked, her eyes meeting mine. 
"I guess."
"Then cry with the sky. No one can make out your tears on your cheek from the sky's tears on your hair." 
I cried. We sat on thr edge of the sidewalk and I cried.
I told her how heart shattering it was to see all the hard work perish with one blow of the whistle. I told her she was wrong about me doing wonders after having attempted something I feared.     
She clasped my hand, caught the escaping tear clutching from the lower lash and whispered,
"You shouldn't have cut me mid sentence that day."
"Aoyama, you never know whant wonders you can do unless you try and it's not always about conquering, it's about being at peace with yourself and not having any regrets because in the end, you can always say "Atleast I tried."
She whispered as smoothly as if she had thoroughly learnt her script. 
I stopped my tears from rolling any further and maintained the wise silence between her holy words.
"I'm glad" I said after a while, interveing the rhythmic beating of the rain. 

   "I'm glad about having no regrets and also accompanying you to find an inner ability of yours you didn't know of. It's not everyday that someone who has never attended a single Phys.Ed class to secure first place in cross-country race and miraculously, at first attempt."
Asuka has been securing first positions in every cross-country race since then. 
[Sip the unidentified potion together for the sake of one another.]

                                                                          *  *  *  *

One day, when we started experiencing teenage stomach cramps, worshipping boy bands with tattoed arms and multi-coloured hair and getting lost in temporary depression bubbles, I realized I was very much into writing. I have read loads of novels since I was roughly nine or perhaps even younger and especially after my mother's death that somehow served as an escape from hours of crying. 

The first novel I read was called "The Enchanted Woods" by Enid Blyton. I found it tucked inside my gran's cane book rack and on asking I came to know it belonged to one of my married aunts. 
It is, perhaps, one of the weirdest thing but before I found out that pale yellow book, as pale as the inside of an apple, I did not know what novels were.

Otousan told me they were long stories with chapters. 
I was fascinated. Gran told me to keep it .
I took it home. I lost myself in it. I read every single letter that was scraped over the rusty vintage pages. I re-read it. Eight times. It was like a new path had been opened to me. 
After that, I bought piles of Enid Blyton's books. Back then, I beleived Enid Blyton was the only writer in the world. I wasn't aware of the fact the Enid Blyton was an amazing children's tale knitter. When I grew a bit, I overgrew her magic novels of talking animals and bearded brownies.

And then, my mom died in an abysmal car crash. I couldn't even count the times I hugged my knees and cried myself to sleep each night. Then one day, I pulled "The Enchanted Woods" from underneathe layers of spider webs and began reading at midnight.
It wasn't still as influential but it made me drop dead on my pillowcase. It saved my night tears and helped me sleep.

The very next day, I grasped every novel from the Sunday market, I was allured toward, no matter how dull the covers were unlike all those children's books I had read over time. 
Again, I grew fond of hours and hours of meaningful silence contrasted with the occasional rustle of the paper when I turned the pages over. 
Unimaginable stories were my escape from missing mom as much as Asuka was.

That's the thing about Asuka.
She's the kind of person who has a clear distinction of when to talk a lot and when we to seal her mouth and respect the friendly silence. 
I can read a book in silence sitting beside her and she can stay as unaudible as the books themselves. This way, I get to be with two of my favourite things in the world simultaneously.    

So one of those days, it was pelting so feircely and beautifully, I sat with a John Green novel on the front balcony of my house, reading. 
Somehow, psychologically, I could smell someone frying french fries. So I called Asuka over and we sat on the kitchen counter, peeling sweet potatoes. Once we were done, we got back up the half fibre glass sheltered balcony and sat underneathe it, eating, watching the rain dance on the sidewalks, me reading "Wil Grayson, Will Grayson", both of us respecting the silence.
I had wanted to show Asuka one of my writings which I had tucked in my novel for the fear of criticism. 

But I pulled the folded page out of the novel where it served as a bookmark and handed it to her. She unfolded it and began reading. 

It was a short story inspired from something I had read earlier. 
"Since when Aoyama?" She asked, her eyes lit with appreciation.
"I don't know. Since mom left."
"I have a feeling you have no idea how amazing this is else you would've shared earlier." 
"Please!" I smiled weakly, trying to snatch it from her but she resisted and pocketed it. 

"Come on Asuka! It's just a crappy piece of writing inspired from a gazillion other stories I've read and a bit of depression I have after mom." I shook my head. 
"Everyone becomes a shitty melancholic writer after losses." I added.

She said nothing, just kept on watching the clouds weep. 
"Do you really enjoy writing, Aoyama?"
"More than I enjoy anything these days," I replied, pulling my novel closer to my chest like it could thwart the tears welling in my eyes. 
I missed mom so much. 

Later in school, Asuka told me she had sent my writing to Mrs. Williams, our English teacher who was conducting an English Creative Writing Contest. 

"Your hand writing is so crappy I had to re write the entire story at midnight." She grinned.
"Your'e so pushy sometimes." I scowled at her but only I could see my heart doing piourettes. 
I had always wanted to participate.

I won the contest. It felt great at first but later it enhanced my depression and I figured it wasn't a side effect of mom's death.
It was because I had a feeling in me somewhere that said, "You didn't deserve to win with your plagiarised piece of crap."
So I stopped writing. Everytime my fingers ached a pen and my mind begged to vent all the feelings on a piece of paper, I thought about how I shouldn't write and do justice to other writers who use their brainy brains to create masterpieces while I read them and moulded my inspirations into just another cliché story. 

One afternoon, it was recess, when Asuka came running over, clutching a glossy red pamphlet.
"There's a District Writing Contest on 23rd," she squealed.
"Alright." I whispered, taking the pamphlet.
"So?", Asuka scanned my expression, searching for hints of excitement.

It was a writing contest between a few schools of our district. At the bottom, the pamphlet screamed in bold yellow letters, "NO PLAGIARISM. THE PIECE OF WRITING SHOULD BE ENTIRELY YOUR OWN CREATION. PLAGIARISM WILL BE IDENTIFIED AND DISQUALIFIED."

"I don't write anymore Asuka," I said, handing the pamphlet back.
"What do you mean? That's such a waste of yourself Aoyama! You WON all those contests," she shook my shoulder.
"Look," I whispered weakly. 

I let her sit beside me and thought my words over carefully, like she did. 
"All my writings are inspired from other people's works. They don't belong to me, it feels like all those words are being tipped off of someone else's pen and I get to take the credit. All my writings have an origin that somehow manage to trace back to some other writer's writing and none of them to my own head. It's a waste to write something that has been written so many times before. It's depressing."  I felt akwardly emotional.

I wanted to cry a bit and maybe that was a side effect of mom's death.
We cradled the silence bewteen us. 
The therapy was coming for me and I knew it would work like it always did. 
Asuka outlined the sharp edges of the pamphlet by her fingertip, processing her thoughts into a beautiful catchphrase.

"Aoyama. Don't you see? Even the Earth has a parallel world that kills the origanilty of it. Every single thing has an origin. It's like a food chain. A good piece of writing inspires quite a number of writers who turn their inspirations into another good piece of writing which further inspires other writers and it goes on and on and soon, you never know, those masterpieces are being included in literature classes where a thousand other people get inspired as they decompose those words and understand the passion behind them and there's no one who would point fingers at writers for the sources of their inspirations when they publish an award winning book. Even as I stand here saying all these words knowing every single one of these letters have been uttered uncountable times before, will I stop talking for the fear of my words being cliché as you have stopped writing Aoyama?"

It worked.

I pocketed the pamphlet and later, won the District Writing Contest. 
"Who is writing masterpieces for future world-wide literature classes eh?" She asked, hugging me.
I felt awkwardly emotional as I pushed her away. 
[You can paint rainbows across the sky and swear to them that the sky is a tangible canvas if that's what leads them toward glorious bliss.]

                                                                                 *  *  *  *
It feels like forever. Me sitting in the bathtub, reminiscing resistant memories while staring at the resistant blue marker on my arm. 
I get out of the bath tub and reach for my phone. 
"Thankyou." I text Asuka. 
It's a simple eight lettered word but when said with depth, it's just about enough. 

[Feelings don't die, people do. It's upto you to stretch it across the unendingness of the horizon or wash it away with a storm.] 
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