The oldest memory that I remember or have of Josie Salem is the one from 9th grade. I used to be this overweight, fourteen year old stout kid, who wore his pants high-waist, and combed his hair sideways everyday of the week, and who didn’t think twice about my crooked spectacles, because appearances hardly mattered. I wasn’t one of the cool kids. Nor was I among the smart ones. I was neither here nor there. I was one of those whom you wouldn’t take a second glance at. Josie too was more or less the same. Except that she was thin, slender, with a wheatish skin tone that was on the fairer end of the scale. She wore glasses too. But they were the flawless, rectangle shaped and half-rimmed ones that complimented the dimple on her left cheek perfectly, unlike the big round ones that stuck out like a sore thumb when they were on me. Josie Salem was always a marvel to my senses. She seemed the quiet, observing type, that talked less and listened to the world more. There, she used to sit, occupying the table and chair in the right-most corner,about a foot away from the huge notice board that covered the back of the classroom. Back then, she roamed with this other girl named Anya Sand, who was her exact opposite. Anya was the chatty one, the one who got herself involved in each and everyone’s business, or maybe that is how I felt, considering how mundane and non reactive I seemed, compared to her. I used to worry about her, always fearing that Anya would turn her into a clone of herself. I considered her a bad influence. It does sound judgemental to an extent now, considering how little I knew them back then. But that was only the facade that Josie put forward. I came to know that years later, when she and I finally started talking to each other.
It took Josie and I exactly two years, a school transfer, and the help of the internet to finally break the ice that had formed between the two of us. In the summer of 2006, when Facebook was still a toddler learning to climb staircases, two-steps at a time, WhatsApp was not even any body’s pipe-dream, and text messages were considered normal, I had my first taste of love, reading the IMs that she sent me through Yahoo! Messenger. How did I fall for her so easily I still wonder. What was it? I never saw her enough to fall for her looks, since we were studying in different schools by then. So I was quite certain that it wasn’t love at first sight. I loved reading. And she opened up like a book to me. Maybe it was this idea, that I had found someone who was willing to just be herself to a nobody like me,and judged me for the words that I wrote to her, instead of the looks that I had. I was in love, but back then I didn’t have the courage to act upon it. I was afraid. I was so deep in Josie’s friend zone, that it had affected my method of thinking to the point that I would rather play any role that I am offered rather than no role at all.
In my defence, I was only sixteen.
We probably must have met each other, about three times in total, in the span of two years. The last two years of high school that is. Random meetings at functions held by mutual friends. Unplanned run-ins at her school exhibition. She always found it hard to speak to me face to face. Like whatever words she had for me, were accessible to, only if they were send over a modem and displayed on a screen. I remember this one encounter that occurred on the second night of the annual science exhibition at my new school. She had come by with her friend and we happened to meet in the corridor of the second floor, where I was presenting my exhibit. To be frank, it was no exhibit, it was a game running on a computer disguised as ‘state of the art graphics to blow of your freaking mind to show off the advancement of GFX cards in the industry’. I wasn’t even there half the time to explain it, it was all show and tell. But to be honest, the second day of the exhibition was actually my day off to check out all the other exhibits on the other floors. So to say that I was slacking on the job when I met her, would not be entirely true.
She was surprised to see me, or was she actually? All these years, and I still don’t have a clue. I wasn’t exactly good at reading faces when I was seventeen. Well, not as good as when I am fifty six now. There was this smile on her face that made me think that she was the one who was powering the entire building. It was electric. It was mesmerizing. It was silent. We both were. And we weren’t alone. You see, before we started chatting over the internet, Josie had a best friend who went by the name Jada Baker. They were friends since childhood. But Jada left for her hometown for further studies after 10th grade. And that was when I entered the scene, and Josie had hence agreed to consider me as a filler. But then Jada made the decision to come back in our final year, and so here we three were, standing in that corridor in each other’s company. Jada seemed to be the only one who seemed not to be mute, because she was the one doing all the talking. To the both of us.
We all were beaming, if I remember that encounter correct. All the three of us. But I would love to believe, Josie and I smiled because we knew something that Jada didn’t. For some reason, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to open our mouths. Say hi. Or ask each other whether we were all right. We just couldn’t. We only smiled. I think I heard her whisper a ‘hi’ somehow, somewhere there after a while. We never realized that Jada had left to pick a call from home in between, and that we were alone for a moment. I remember shrugging to something that she had said, chuckling. I remember the dress she wore. The skirt that covered her knees up till her ankles. The top that seemed simple but went perfect with it. The frills around her elbows that matched with the color of her sandals. She was difficult to look away from.
I have wondered, countless sleepless nights, whether I should have told her then, whatever that happened in my head, whenever I happened to think of her. In which direction could that conversation have gone back then? Maybe I feared, that I would stop seeing that smile. Or maybe she would just reject me and consider me as her friend. What was I more afraid of back then? I would like to believe it to be the former. I was seventeen. It could have only probably been, the latter.
We graduated. And went our separate paths. But we did manage to keep contact. It was good for a while. We did have our moments. Again and again. But for some reason, I never seemed to act upon any of them. I wonder if she knew how I felt. I’m sure it did show from time to time. It did get pretty obvious here and there. Or was she just waiting to hear the words from me? I don’t know. I was twenty two by then. Young. Full of blood.
Josie went on to become a lawyer. She had two kids.
Gina, and Wayne.
And then I received a letter from Jada,a couple of nights ago, that she was no more.
I shed a tear.
I’m trying to be humble there, I shed quite a number.
I am reminded of this thing that she told me a few decades ago. That when in love,
‘It’s no better to be safe than sorry’
How right was she.