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The Arabella Story. Ch-1

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Teardrops left silvery footprints on her soft cheeks and her dark lashes were glittering with moisture. She was tired, very tired. Exhausted, you may say. But outwardly she put up a good show. Remarkable, she thought, its remarkable how nobody sees through this façade, her hands trembled as she continued scribbling on the test sheet. Her neighbor tried to peep in her paper. She sighed and then pushed the sheet towards her. Her thick, dark hair was pulled back in a messy braid. She was fed-up of her life. She was fed-up of being pushed around, commanded and dictated by everyone who chanced to cross her life. Now she wanted to escape, run away from here, forever. Suddenly, which quick resolution, she grabbed back her paper, handed it to the teacher and ran out from the room without pausing to regard the gawking students.
She stopped, out of breath, under the lemon tree in the school garden. Mr. Wickburg, the Algebra teacher stared at her panting and sobbing under the wilting, forlorn tree in the most neglected, overgrown area of the garden. She saw him walking over to her from the corner of her eyes. She flung herself on the grass resignedly. On other occasions she would have put up a show, grabbed the hosepipe or started plucking the yellowing leaves, but today, she decided she didn’t care. Mr. Wickburg was a peculiar man. His wrinkled face was half covered by his grey moustache and beard. The leftover of his skin looked magnified under his huge, rounded spectacles. His bald head was almost always covered by an obsolete hat. He limped towards her painfully with the help of his stick. She wiped her tears before he addressed her in his quiet, squeaky voice, “Arabella,” he laid a wrinkled hand on her young shoulders. “Yes, Mr. Wickburg?” she responded politely. He shook his head and flopped down beside her youthful figure. “Child, is something wrong? You look sad.” He asked her gently. He was the only one who was gentle to her. Her throat was already choked with treacherous tears, she just shook her head. They sat in silence for a while. Her pain and fury subsided to some extent. “Thank you Sir.” She whispered tearfully.
His response was unusual. “Why do you come here Arabella?” he asked her plaintively. She was perplexed for a moment. No one had ever asked her the reason outright. In fact she herself didn’t know it. “I don’t know Sir.” She said thoughtfully, “I feel… comforted here.” The old teacher looked even more confused. “But why this rotting tree? Why not some other?” he gestured towards the healthy, bright rose boughs and lily plants. She shook her head in confoundment for an instance, “I feel connected to this place Sir. When I’m here, I feel…” she didn’t know how to express it. It was something unfathomable. Mr. Wickburg took a moment to register the fact. “I knew a girl, just like you, Arabella…she…” the shrill bell interrupted his feeble voice. He gave a small laughter and then scrambled to his feet. She helped him up. “Come to my cottage sometimes dear, my old woman likes having you around.” She nodded and another tear sprang in her eyes. But Mr. Wickburg was already scurrying towards the frivolous file of teenagers filling the school grounds. Mrs. Wickburg was dead for five nears now.
As Arabella walked towards her house that afternoon, an unusual feeling sprang inside her and as hard as she tried, she couldn’t give a word to it. She just felt different, she concluded at last. Autumn had set in and the golden-red leaves floated in the quiet breeze. The freshness of the light shower a few hours ago had made the air surprisingly cool. She wished she had put on a coat at least before setting out. She had a few errands to run before she went back home. So she paused in front of Barny’s, a quaint grocery store, and taking in a deep breath, stepped into its homely warmth. “Hello Arabella, may I help you?” Mrs. Hombre, a thin, oval faced woman with sharp features and high cheekbones greeted her from the counter. Her daughter, Melanie was in the same grade as Arabella. But she hardly ever talked to her. Everybody stayed away from Arabella, as far as possible, even those who didn’t have any friends themselves. “Hi, Mrs. Hombre,” she smiled charmingly at the middle-aged woman, “I’d like a loaf of bread, a packet of Pretzels, and a packet of milk, please.” “Of course dear…” just then the door swung open and an impatient group of women filed inside. Flustered, Mrs. Hombre flitted towards them. “Mel, honey, serve Arabella, will you?” on seeing her daughter’s hesitation, she gave her a stern look and begrudgingly, Mel wadded towards her. She was a plump girl, unlike her mother. Her hair was arranged in pretty yellow curls. Her grey-blue eyes were scared and terrified. Arabella sighed, “I’m not a disease, you know.” She said exasperated as Mel packed her items of purchase in a brown bag and handed it to her. “I…never…never…said so…” the girl stammered. Her voice was melodious, Arabella noticed. “Then why does everyone treat me like filth? It’s so demeaning!” she said in a quiet, forceful voice. “Do I look terrifying?” she questioned before Mel could answer. “No, you’re beautiful!” the plump girl sounded convinced. She had every reason to feel so. Arabella was a beauty, no doubt. Her dark hair reached her shoulder and fell down in gentle waves. Her face was exquisitely proportionate and sensual. Her sloe-eyes were perhaps the most beautiful part of her body. She was the kind of girl no one could resist, in any place but here. Presently, her face turned red and she grabbed her shopping bag and muttering an unintelligible ‘thank you’ hurried out.
Outside, it was drizzling and the cool water droplets washed her flushed face with little relief. She was bubbling with happiness. Someone had called her ‘beautiful’. It wasn’t even someone who loved her, a stranger to her inside. She hopped down the cobbled path, admiring the way the sunset painted the sky into a hundred brilliant hues and feeling beauty inside her. She stopped before her tumbledown, two storey house. It was a simple, brick house with simple, cheap furniture and enough space to accommodate its five residents; first, Arabella’s father, Mr. Jeremy Shelby, his old, warm-hearted mother, his daughter, Arabella and Sherry and Polly, their two pets. Sherry was a golden-furred Labrador who usually hopped around the house in excitement and licked Arabella’s boots whenever available and Polly, the snow-white cat, named after their Aunt. Polly, who’s cat-incarnate the family members considered her to be. For all day long, Polly would only sit gravely by the fire and watch Grandma knit placidly and only raise hue and cry when she was not fed properly.
Arabella stood in the light rain and with a smile knocked the wooden door with her knuckles. She knocked again, when the door did not open and she heard Sherry bark. Her insides froze as she fretted over her Grandma and retrieved the extra keys from under the foot-mat hurriedly. With trembling hands she opened the door and burst inside. The parlor was warm and comfortable, though poorly furnished. The fire was blazing in the hearth and Grandma was snoring lightly on the rocking chair. The snow-white cat was lounging at her feet and a golden dog was wagging her tail eagerly. It was a setting fit for a Jane Austen novel. Arabella gave a nervous laughter and gently closed the door shut behind her. She patted Sherry and headed towards the kitchen to keep the groceries. She saw that dinner was already ready and set out on the table. The rough, unpolished table was covered with a flowery, faded tablecloth; an attempt of Grandma’s to bring cheer to the bleak household. She smiled as she thought of her old, loving Grandma. She loved Granny dearly.
“Arabella,” her grandmother’s voice startled her, but she readily accepted her warm hug. “How was school, honey?” she asked warmly. From three months, she asked the question every evening without fail and got the same reply, “Fine Gran, everyone was really good to me.” but the old woman saw through her granddaughter’s white lies. She sighed. “Go and change, love, you’ll be cold. You’re so wet, already. I’ll set the table by then and then you can have dinner by the fire, okay?” she nodded and fled up the wooden staircase, her footsteps ringing hollowing in the silence. Her room was the tiny attic. Somehow she loved its slanting roof, its huge windows and its handmade blue curtains. She switched on the tiny table-lamp by her bedside and flung on the wrought iron bed in its mellow light. The glittering stars her mother had pasted on the low ceiling ten years ago still glowed softly in the dim light. She held her tears with all her might. Then pulling down her worn-out pair of jeans and light sweater, she ran to the tiny bathroom she shared with Gran, dragging her towel and pajamas along with her. The bathroom was warm too, surprisingly and as she opened her secret bathroom cupboard to retrieve her bathroom necessities, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She was glowing somehow and her eyes were sparkling. The sadness was lifted from her dark eyes and her forehead was smooth and not creased with worry. She felt happy then, because she looked better. She took a hot shower and even though the obsolete geyser grunted in protest, the water was steamy hot. She felt rejuvenated and alive and comfortable in her old pajamas. She actually danced all the way downstairs. In the opposite attic, a curtain opened furtively and someone peered at her dancing figure with curious, interested eyes…



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