“What do you eat at school?” Shreya asked her. Rhea told them about the salad bar, little milk cartons and baked fish.
“Wow, that sounds like a restaurant,” said Sree with jealousy. She hated eating her boring home food every day. The school only had a muriwala and an ice cream cart.
The girls spent the rest of the afternoon talking, until Sree’s mother announced that Rhea’s aunt had come to take her home. “Don’t worry, I’ll come again tomorrow,” Rhea said and waved goodbye.
Rhea did come the next day, but she was too busy to look at her friends for more than a minute at a time. She had a mobile phone with her.
“Mom set up the Internet connection today,” she explained.
“I’m chatting with my friend. Her name is Sue.”
Shreya wanted to say that she was being rude. The old Rhea had always given them her full attention. In fact, Rhea had been the one who would stop them from staring at computer games and messenger. She would stand in front of the monitor with her arms crossed.
It wasn’t a fun afternoon. Rhea was too distracted. Sree was upset. Shreya was sleepy because she was so bored by the quietness. The three girls were known to talk nonstop. Even during lunch, they watched Rhea eat her pizza with a fork and knife and frown at the Indian toppings.
“Pizza in India isn’t as good as pizza over there. Who puts paneer tikka on a pizza?” Rhea complained with her new accent.
When they said goodbye to each other that day, Rhea didn’t hug them back. She looked uncomfortable. Sree couldn’t help but ask her what was wrong.
“Nothing is wrong. I just don’t think we need to hug every time we see each other. It’s weird,” Rhea said.
She waved goodbye with her eyes on her phone. Shreya and Sree felt like crying.
Time flew by and it was the day before Rhea was returning to the States. Sree’s parents invited Shreya, Rhea and all the parents over for dinner. Rhea came dressed in a pretty pink dress. There was no phone in her hand. She was carrying gifts for her friends. Shreya and Sree said thank you.
“Open them,” Rhea requested.
They did. Both packages contained pink dresses like the one Rhea was wearing.
“Wear them now, please,” said Rhea with hopeful eyes.
They were angry at their friend but listened to her. When the three of them were dressed identically, Rhea’s mother took a picture.
That evening, Sree and Shreya realised that their friend had changed but that was supposed to happen. People changed. When people moved to new places, they would change. They also realised that Rhea felt bad about not being the same anymore.
“I’m so sorry for being rude that day,” Rhea said with her eyes on her feet.
“I just feel like something has changed. It makes me feel terrible.”
Now her old friends felt bad about her feeling so bad. They decided to enjoy their last evening together.
“One thing is still the same,” said Shreya.
“What’s that?” The other two asked.
“We all still love pink!”
First published in TeleKids (An ABP Group publication)