The wind rustled the leaves of the juniper trees above my head and I closed my eyes, enjoying the damp air. A few crows hopped from branch to branch, above me cocking their heads at each other and occasionally cawing. The smell of freshly fried chips wafted from the canteen, tempting anyone passing by.
“Mind if I join you?”
I opened my eyes and grinned, recognizing the voice. Dawud stood before me with his hands in his pockets, sandy hair ruffled by the wind.
“Do I have a choice?”
“Not really.” He chuckled, plopping down on the bench next to mine. “Enjoying the weather?”
I nodded smiling and he leaned back against the trunk of the juniper tree, gazing at the clouds broodingly. I glanced at him worried. His shoulders were tense and jaw taut. He glanced my way and I raised an eyebrow. He shrugged, and resumed his fascination with the sky.
I pursed my lip and wondered what was bothering him. Dawud was a pretty rational guy; it took something pretty problematic to bug him. His thick eyebrows were set in an annoyed line. The wind picked up its pace and an empty Milo carton rolled across the grass near our feet. Dawud kicked it away with unnecessary force making it skid a fair distance before slowing to a stop at the foot of the basketball hoop.
He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked thoughtfully at the green carton.
“Any luck with those writing competitions?” he asked absent-mindedly, making small talk, his eyes on the carton.
“Not really.” I answered with a crooked smile. If you thought about it, it was pretty funny how I took part in so many competitions but never won. What were the odds? I must really suck. “The point is to try.” I laughed, trying to coax him out of his mood.
“At this rate I’ll be a writer in no time.”
He relented with a smile and I rejoiced in the little victory. His eyes had warmed somewhat and he was about to say something when we noticed Jannat, Amira, Arooj, Zaid, Ali and Sundas eyeing us.
“Those idiots always move in packs,” Dawud said. “Take one of them alone and they’re helpless.”
I was quiet, watching them casually saunter their way towards us, talking animatedly all the while and occasionally casting jeering grins our way.
“They’re coming here.” I noted drily.
The wind picked up momentum and the overgrown grass thrashed wildly. A few leaves blew off the branches of the overhead trees, swirling in the air. The air was damp and the clouds were now an ominous shade of grey. I breathed in the smell of rain and my spirits soared. I felt fresh and invigorated; like I had the power to do anything.
Jannat’s hair was tied up in a high pony, her pink sandals complementing her shirt which read ‘MY attitude depends on how YOU treat me’. Her skin tight jeans were a bright neon blue which only she could pull off. She led the group as they took their time reaching us. Amira was tagging along in the rear with Ali; trying without success to engage him in a conversation. Sundas and Arooj trailed behind Jannat more or less silently, giggling every now and then when Jannat spoke. I pitied their weak souls. They were only with Jannat so that they could get a good story, to be in the thick of all the drama and to try and get into her inner circle. Meanwhile Jannat was using them as a platform, a base on which she climbed and then looked down on everyone else. Their desperateness to be with her, to please her and to be acknowledged stoked the fiery blaze that was Jannat’s ego. And as if her mindless minions weren’t enough, she also had the class joker, Zaid, under her thumb.
Dawud had decided to return his gaze back to the clouds so I decided to bide my time with a book.
“Well, well what do we have here?” Jannat smirked at us, stopping near my bench. She ran a well-manicured hand through her hair, trying without success to tame her flicks which were being tousled by the wind.
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m reading.” I told her curtly.
She narrowed her eyes and her tone turned scathing.
“As if you’re that innocent.”
“Innocence had nothing to do with it.”
“You always look down on us, you wear a scarf but you’re just as bad. No you’re worse. You’re a hypocrite.” Jannat accused.
“What the hell are you going on about woman?”
I was confused, what had I done? I couldn’t recall anything recent that could have elicited such a queer response. I looked at Dawud and found him watching me, his black eyes unreadable. He was being really quiet for someone who had a temper problem.
“You know damn well what I’m going on about.”
“No! I don’t.” This was getting annoying.
“You’re that stupid?” Amira jeered, folding her arms across her chest.
Layla and Fatima joined the crowd standing opposite me, trying to make sense of the commotion. Layla’s eyes spotted me and darted to Jannat. Her eyes narrowed minutely and she angled her body to face Jannat, still in the crowd, but slightly turned.
“Dawud likes you.” Jannat stated bluntly.
I laughed nervously, hoping beyond all hope that she didn’t mean what I thought she meant.
“Of course he likes me, he’s my friend.”
Sundas rolled her hazel eyes. My cheeks were getting hot and my palms grew sweaty. I didn’t want to discuss this. It couldn’t be true, it just couldn’t. I was too weird and not even pretty. It made no sense, but my brain was in overdrive. I was grateful for the cool breeze; my face was too warm for comfort.
“You know what I mean, don’t act dumb.”
I looked at Dawud, willing him to negate it, to say something. But he sat just as before, hands in pockets, eyeing me broodingly with a slight frown.
“You know he likes you and you lead him on.”
I glared at Dawud, my heart hammering and my cheeks aflame.
“He doesn’t like me!”
Amira snorted. “Then why isn’t he denying it?”
“How the hell am I supposed to know?!”
“She didn’t know.” Dawud said calmly, looking directly at Jannat, his eyebrows set in an irritated line.
I was appalled. I looked at him in shock but I was more upset than angry. We’d been friends for years. He would tell me about everyone he was ever even slightly interested in which usually quelled my fears. Now here he was claiming he had feelings for me. It pained me to consider it. I felt like I was going to be sick. It couldn’t be true, Dawud was just bugged by the stupid gossip. He often did that, played along with the story because he didn’t give a damn what other people thought.
“As if she didn’t know.” Sundas sneered, her lip curling.
“You can tell from her face.” Layla said quietly, looking down, her voice quivering. My heart went out to her. Everyone turned and stared, quiet for a moment.
“Let it go.” Dawud went on calmly.
“Sure we would, if that little slut wasn’t such a hypocrite.” Jannat retorted, reluctantly glancing away from Layla.
“Look at her, turning red. You’d think she was actually embarrassed.” Amira laughed.
“I never thought Maria would be into things like that.” Ali said shaking his head.
“It was all an act, a good one at that.” Jannat said sardonically.
“When has she ever said anything to you?”
The new voice startled everyone and even Layla looked up.
Talha and few other guys from the football team stood at the perimeter of the crowd. Talha’s thick black hair was sticking up in spikes at odd angles and my heart skipped a beat. They were all panting slightly with a sheen of sweat covering their faces.
“Well not directly but…….”
“Well maybe you’re just paranoid.”
Jannat was taken aback and looked at Zaid for support. But Zaid looked uncomfortable; he hadn’t said a word since the others had ganged up on me. He looked like he just wanted to get away from the scene. He looked at the football team and saw a means of escape.
“Is it time for the game?”
“Not quite but if we hurry we can get some time in for some practice.” Amir told him.
Jannat was holding back her anger. But she was smart, she knew there was no point in going on but she wasn’t going to go without a final word. She looked at me haughtily.
“Let’s go Zaid, there’s no point in talking to this idiot anyway.”
Amir and Talha rolled their eyes. Zaid and Jannat left with the football team but Talha stayed behind looking at me with worry plain on his face. The rest of the bystanders trickled away slowly leaving me with Layla, Talha and Dawud. Layla came and sat next to me. I turned to Dawud, still hot in the face.
“What was that?”
“Nothing.” He sighed.
“Why didn’t you back me up, why did you just sit there?” My heart throbbed.
“I did tell them to leave you alone.”
“Why didn’t you tell them it wasn’t true?” I asked exasperated.
Dawud was quiet. The silence dragged on, pierced occasionally by the sound of thunder in the distance.
“It’s because it is true.” Talha said before turning around to leave.
I looked after him, as his silhouette walked in the distance. I turned around and saw Dawud staring at me again, this time with eyes full of sadness and guilt.
If you enjoyed it and have an account on wattpad, follow me and don’t forget to vote. 😀