She was the quintessential new girl. Starkly attractive, clear skin, crisp uniform, shined shoes –
like she’d been sterilized and wrapped in Saran wrap; untouchable. Flawless.
She even had a fancy name to match – Tara Kapoor.
A star that shone brightest in the vast expanse of our assembly hall, unperturbed by the attention
Every girl wanted to be her friend. Every boy, of course, simply wanted her. Everyone wanted to
be the one to link arms with her on the way to class, to sit with her at lunch and moan about the
food their respective mothers had packed.
“This is bullshit.”
“Ugh, bhindi. Again?!”
“I want to chuck it in my mom’s face.”
After-school plans would take shape.
“Let’s hang,” they’d say. “Let’s go hang at McD’s, na?”
It was the popular girls – the clique that was envied and feared in equal measure – who bitched
and groaned about their horrifying lunches, who invited her to spend time with them outside the school where they could fold up their skirts to mid-thigh and roll their socks down smooth,
shaved legs, shake their hair out of the mandatory two-braids, and swipe on lipstick.
They offered every day.
And every day she’d reply, “Not today.”
It was the careless promise of a tomorrow that she left them hanging on to. And, of course, they
hung on to her every word like nothing she said was mundane, like every sentence she spoke was
fascinating. She could do no wrong and promised to soar high, taking them with her. Simply
being around Tara meant that you were noticed. Because how could anybody look anywhere else
when she was in the room: pristine, perfect, precious? You looked at her, and if she, in turn,
pointed at something, you looked at it too; you shared her exact opinion.
I was just about to say that! Haha, crazy!
And then, suddenly, people were looking at me. Not because Tara pointed at me; no, Tara was
sitting right next to me.
“It’s not so bad,” she said, twinkling at me, “being on the first bench.”
I watched her carefully for signs of mockery, for that smirk the clique shared behind the backs of
those they sometimes deigned to pay attention to, usually for favours never returned.
But Tara simply smiled at me until I offered her a tentative smile of my own, at which point she
reached out and gently tweaked my earlobe.
“I love your earrings. I’m Tara, by the way.”
I know, I wanted to say. “Hello,” I said, instead.
“Mind being my partner this month?”
I felt the heavy, collective gaze of forty odd students who couldn’t believe their eyes, and before
I could answer, fortunately, the bell went off.
Tara didn’t seem to require responses in order to carry on a conversation. When the math teacher
instructed me to help bring her up to speed, she turned and winked at me.
“You can come to mine!” she trilled. And then, looking back over her shoulder, “Why’s
everyone staring?” she whispered.
“Because they can’t believe you’re talking to me,” I muttered. “They can’t believe you even see
me. Technically, I don’t exist.”
It was almost 7PM and Tara was no closer to finishing her equations than she’d been when we’d
“Let’s just talk na,” she said finally, throwing down her pen and shutting her text book. She
stretched out on her front across her bed and rested her chin in her hands, eyes bright.
“So what do you like doing after school?” she asked.
“I usually just finish homework and then revise.”
She laughed again, a clear, musical tinkling.
“God, I can’t imagine being so studious.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. So I just carried on solving equations.
“You know why we moved to Mumbai?” she asked.
I said, “Well, I’ve heard the air in Delhi is poisonous now.”
She laughed. I hadn’t even been joking but I felt gratified anyway.
“No, re!” she swiped her hand carelessly through mid-air, “I eff-ed up. Big time.”
Boy trouble, I thought. “How?”
She was fiddling with her discarded tie, looping it around her slender fingers. She didn’t look up
as she said, “I killed my grandma.”
I looked back down at my book, holding back a sigh. Posh girls had the weirdest sense of
humour. To indulge her, I emitted a dry chuckle.
She said, “Whiny old bitch.”
A beat of silence.
Warily, I said, “That’s…not very funny.”
Smiling, Tara looked up; my body went cold. Goosebumps rose along my arms and legs, my
heart tripping over itself in sudden fear at the cold emptiness in her eyes.
“I’m not joking,” she said simply. “I took a knife from the kitchen and slit her throat. The deaf
idiot didn’t even hear me come in. Pissed herself,” she sniggered, “and bled to death all over the
All I could do was sit and stare. And listen, helplessly.
“Luckily, Dad has contacts with the police everywhere. We told everyone she’d died in her sleep
– lots of garlands around her neck at the funeral,” she smirked slowly, “then burnt her gross
body, and got the hell out of Delhi.” She sighed and turned onto her back, spreading her arms
out. “I miss Delhi sometimes. But Mumbai’s not too bad,” she added, as if keen on not offending
me. “I bet I can pick out a boyfriend soon. My ex in Delhi still calls and cries every night.” She
giggled. “Men can be so pathetic, hai na?”
I looked down to see I’d accidentally ripped a page in my book. Hands shaking, I gathered my
“I don’t like jokes like these,” I managed to say.
She sighed again. “I’m being serious, baba. Super serious. You’re the only one I’ve told. God,
I’ve been dying to tell someone!”
It burst out of me: “Why?”
Bewildered: “Why what?”
“Why would you tell me all this?”
Tara looked at me upside down, grinning, before turning over and cupping her chin with one
“Because it’s you,” she said sweetly. “Nobody’s ever going to believe you.” She winked. “You
don’t exist, remember?”