“Excuse me, please!… Move it, move it, move it!! I’m going to miss my trainnnnnnn!!!”, I yelled, manoeuvring through the milling crowds at New Delhi railway station. I made a run for the designated platform in a panic, leaving mummy papa behind. Thankfully the train had not left yet. As I frantically looked for my compartment, Papa pulled up, holding my duffel bag with the sleeping bag rolled on top.
“Were you planning to leave without this?!”, he mocked, handing it to me. Mummy gave me a bone-crushing hug, while attempting to hold back her tears.
“Take care of yourself bacche, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“Oho, mummy I’m just going for a summer camp to the hills. Stop the drama please!”.
That’s when I heard a familiar tinkly voice, “Ruhi, your seat is with me. Just climb any compartment and walk to me!”.
I hugged my parents and climbed on, slowly making my way to Alexandra, or Alexa as she preferred to be called.
At an outward glance, no one would believe that 15-year-old nerd Ruhi Singh is best friends with 16-year-old Danish bombshell, Alexandra Moller. We’re like chalk and cheese- I mostly look like a malnourished boy, while she’s the epitome of feminine beauty; I’m usually at the top of my class, and she barely scrapes through each year. Yet, we’ve been stuck at the hip ever since Alexa happened to sit next to me on the first day of 8th standard, in school.
Now that her father’s diplomatic posting in India is coming to an end, we planned this adventure summer camp for children, as a girly farewell trip. Convincing our parents had not been an easy task. I had to cajole my ultra-strict, traditional mother by working extra hard during the 10th standard board exams, and Alexa, whose parents are always worried about protocol, organised a meeting with the camp owner and all the counsellors before she was allowed to travel. This trip means so much to us, there was no way I was going to miss the train!
When I finally reached the berth that I was sharing with Alexa, I enveloped her in giggles and hugs.
“I can’t believe it’s finally happening Ruhi!”, cried Alexa jubilantly.
“Honestly, I can’t believe it either! You should’ve seen my mother while she was dropping me. She was crying away like I was getting married or something!”, I rolled my eyes.
“Well, at least your parents came to drop you. My only companion to the station was my father’s security guy, Narinder.”
“Alexa, no glum faces today. We’re going on a summer holiday! Just imagine, mummy doesn’t even let me stay over at your place, and here I’m actually sitting in a train without parental supervision!!”
“Excuse me…”, we both looked up on being interrupted. A tall young man with a pierced ear, floppy hair, deep-set brown eyes, and the cutest smile, looked back at us.
“Sorry to barge in ladies. I’m Ajit, and I’m taking attendance for all the DiscoveryWorld campers. Please show me your tickets, and then sign here”, he said, passing me his clipboard.
We both were suddenly tongue-tied, but I managed to regain composure first. “Uh… I’m sorry, but who are you?”
“I just told you, I’m Ajit!”, he smiled, before adding, “I’m a camp counsellor.”
Finally finding her tongue, Alexa rudely blurted out, “but we met all the counsellors before signing up, and you weren’t one of them.”
Slightly affronted, Ajit said, “Neeraj is one of the regular counsellors, but he was diagnosed with food poisoning two days ago, so they asked me to fill in.
This isn’t my first camping experience, in case you’re worried. It’s my first time as a counsellor, as I turned 18 three months ago, but I’ve been an active participant in the camps ever since I was 12. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”
“Oh! We thought you were one of the campers, you look so young”, I couldn’t help saying.
“So, what activity will you be leading?”, asked Alexa, feigning disinterest.
“I think they’ll put me in the outdoor activities group. You see, I’m just sort of learning the ropes, doing the small stuff… like taking attendance”, he said pointing to the clipboard in my hand.
“Oh sorry, yes, we’ll just show you our tickets”, and I turned to rummage through my rucksack.
“So, where are you from?”, Ajit asked Alexa.
I felt a sharp twinge of disappointment on hearing this frequently asked question. Everyone noticed Alexa, everyone flirted with her. I didn’t even exist when I was with her. The lack of male attention didn’t bother me when it concerned the twerpy boys from our class, but I was really hoping to be noticed by this doyen of cuteness called Ajit.
“I’m from Denmark, but I’ve been in Delhi for the last three years. My name is Alexa, and my friend Ruhi and I study at the Valley High school. What about you?”, she responded.
“Well, I just graduated from Study Smart Academy, after giving my 12th board exams. I’m waiting for the results and hoping to get into a good college. What class are you guys in?”, he asked, looking directly at me.
“We just gave our 10th boards, and I’m quite nervous about the results too”, I responded, with my heart thumping loudly in my chest.
Alexa piped in, “ah, these results are not all they’re cracked up to be! In fact, they won’t count for anything when I return to my country. I’ll have to give another exam so they can assess my level of education.
And, anyway Ruhi, what are you worried about? You’re the most brilliant person I know!”
I blushed at her compliment, as Ajit added, “don’t worry, she’s right. These results don’t matter in the larger picture. In any case, for the next 7 days, we should forget everything and just have fun- yes?!”.
“Yes!!”, we both yelled in unison.
“Alright, ladies, I better finish my round. I’ll drop in later to check in on you two. If you need anything, I’m two berths down. Enjoy the rest of the train ride!”. Smiling, Ajit moved on to the next berth.
“He’s super cute, isn’t he?!”, squealed Alexa.
“Yes, he is. Really cute”, I replied quietly.
Surprised at my tone, Alexa looked at me quizzically. I was prone to frequent insecure moments about my academic marks or my mother’s over-involvement in my life, but boys had never really entered the picture before. Hiding my face, I hoped she wouldn’t see how jealous I was at that moment.
“You like him!”, she teased, poking me playfully in the ribs.
“What’s the point, he’s obviously only interested in you”, I sulked, deliberately looking out the window.
“What? We don’t even know him Ruhi!… And if I’ve read the signals correctly, I think he’s actually interested in you”, she claimed.
“What? No! There were no signals!”, I said, secretly nurturing a ray of hope.
“Anyway, can you stop sulking please? Let’s go explore the train. I’ve heard Rhea and Akanksha are coming to this camp too. Let’s go see if we can find them”, Alexa prodded me to get up.
Half upset, I accompanied her as we made our way down the train, to say hello to the other kids we knew. Half an hour later, while leaving our friends’ berth, we found ourselves face-to-face with Ajit, standing awfully close to an attractive girl in very flattering clothes.
“Oh, hey ladies! This is my girl… uh, friend Aisha. She’s also a counsellor”, Ajit exclaimed sheepishly.
Aisha looked us up and down, before coolly saying, “Hi, nice to meet you. Ajit was just telling me about the girls from Valley High. I went there too before I switched schools”.
“Oh, that’s nice. Anyway, we’ll see you around. Let’s head back to our berth Ruhi”, Alexa took control of the situation, perhaps anticipating that I would be upset over this new development.
As soon as we were back in our compartment, however, I couldn’t stop laughing, “Hahahahaha! I can’t believe I was mad at you for him! Why would he ever be interested in a bunch of kids, when he’s off to college and prefers coochie-cooing with ‘Miss Aisha’ on a train!”
“Hahahaa, I think you were blinded by his cuteness, and I don’t blame you. But let’s never let a guy come between us ok? Sisters before misters, please!”, she requested.
“Yes, I promise. Alexa-Ruhi before anyone else!”. I gave my friend Alexa, the tightest hug possible, eagerly looking forward to the next 7 days!
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