Introvert and shy. These two words had always defined Zara. Anywhere she went, people used to say “She is so shy!” and “She speaks so less!” She was tired of being the girl who always stood on the sidelines. Like the silent spectators of a play. Watching, listening, and observing – but someone who never had a role to play on the stage.
Then one fine day adolescence came knocking on the door of her life. She took its eager hands in hers. That was the day she missed the bend on the road and fell off the cliff. It was a long way down.
“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you!” The same lyrics, the same tune, year after year, but still it brings a smile to our faces when our friends, family sing the song.
“I wonder why it is so.” wondered Zara as she cut the cake to the clapping and cheering of her friends. Her parents were standing by her side, smiling happily. It was her 16th birthday. Balloons and streamers decorated the brightly lit room. All her friends were there, smiling, laughing and talking. But Zara’s mind was elsewhere. “It has been 3 hours since the last joint” she thought. She was feeling restless. She knew she would not last long without her “rolls”. That’s what she called them. Those cigarettes which had been hidden very carefully – in a tiny box taped to the underside of her bed.
A tap on her shoulder jerked her back to the present. “What?” she snapped as she turned around to see who it was. “Good evening to you too” said Vishal with an amused look on his face. Zara rolled her eyes.
“What do you want?” she asked, not very politely.
“Nothing. Just wanted to give you this.” he said as he placed a beautifully wrapped present in her hands. “Happy birthday Zara.” He said with a smile and walked away. Zara watched his back with an annoyed look on her face. She glanced at the present in her hands and carelessly plopped it in the growing pile of gifts on the table.
Soon the party was over and all her friends had left. “Finally I can retreat to my room.” Zara thought, feeling relieved. Mumbling good night to her parents she hastily went to her room and locked the door. Quickly she pulled out her treasured box, took out a cig, lighted it and took a long puff. Standing by the large window that overlooked the garden, she slowly slipped into an intoxicating euphoria as the marijuana took over her senses.
The next morning, Zara woke up to the sound of loud and urgent knocks on her door. She blinked as she tried to get out of bed and walk towards the door stumbling on her way. Her mother was standing outside, with a worried look on her face. “I’ve been knocking for so long Zara! It is past noon. Now hurry up and get ready, your friends have come to meet you.”
Zara went through her morning routine languidly and took an hour to come down and meet her friends. Vishal and Richa had come. The atmosphere was tense. Vishal had a stern look on his face while the usual bright smile was missing from Richa’s face. “Hey guys.” Zara greeted them as she picked up an apple from the fruit basket. “What’s up?”
“We need to talk.” said Vishal. “Let’s go outside.”
The three of them walked towards the lawn and sat down on their favorite spot on the grass, near the worn out swing. They had been friends for as long as they could remember. Childhood memories were filled with rolling on the grass, playfully chasing one another and taking turns on the swing.
“Anybody wants to have a go on the swing?” Vishal asked half smiling. Richa looked at Zara but she had a distant look on her face and was lost in thought. “Earth to Zara.” Richa said as she poked Zara’s shoulder. “Uh... What?” Zara responded, absent mindedly.
“Have you been talking to Raghav lately?”
“Don’t try to deny. I have seen you meeting him after school since the past two weeks. What for do you talk with that good for nothing boy?”
Raghav was a classmate of theirs. He was infamous throughout the school. Bad grades, misbehaviour, arrogant… he was a disgrace as his teachers often used to say. He did not have any friends in school. Moreover, it was a well-known “secret” that he took drugs. But he was lonely.
“Raghav was right! Nobody understands people like us.” Zara shouted at Vishal. “What?” Vishal said, stunned. Richa stared at her. “What are you talking about Zara?” Richa whispered. “People like you will never understand us, because you are normal. You lead a perfect life and do not go through the same problems as we do. But some of us aren’t so lucky.” And saying so, Zara got up and walked away in a huff.
Vishal and Richa could only look as she went inside the house and slammed the door behind her. Their best friend was acting like a stranger.
A week after that incident they found out that Zara had been buying drugs from Raghav. They were caught after school hours by the Principal. Both of them were suspended from school for a month. But Raghav did not come back. His parents shifted him to a new school. While Zara spent some time at a rehabilitation centre before coming back. Her parents took their time out of their busy lives and spent quality time with her. In those few days, they probably learnt more about each other than they had in 16 long years. Vishal and Richa visited as often as possible. They brought her things she loved, made her laugh with their silly antics and listened to her as she started to open up slowly again. Within two months, Zara recovered. But she had changed a lot – for the better. She was no longer the quiet girl. With the help of her well-wishers, she gradually came out of her shell and broke down the walls which she had built up over such a long time.
Marijuana for her was a place to hide. Sometimes it made her paranoid and impotent, but mostly it just made her withdrawn. But she had overcome all of that.
She never needed the drug again to escape to another world. Her own world was lit up with happiness again.