The cold wind slapped my cheeks as I nervously sat on the bench by myself. I didn’t exactly fit in: frizzy haired nerd with glasses and a hard to pronounce name. I wrapped myself up in my red winter coat wishing that I could wrap my entire existence up in the same way. I watched the other children gleefully play, shriek and pull at each others’ jumpers immersed in their games. I’d tried to make friends with some of the girls but they came with a lot of demands. If Becky didn’t like English – none of us could like English. If Stephanie didn’t like History – none of us could like History. And all too often, I had nothing to talk about because I loved English and History. But I still tagged along and tried to mimic their behaviour: having a short summer dress, wearing large scrunchies in my hair, combing my unruly curls in an attempt to have smooth, sleek hair like theirs and begging my parents to let me join Brownies. They were having none of it.
Before I’d been confronted with the fine print of friendship, they’d already established little group secrets, friendship bracelets, multi coloured hair braids, sweetheart crushes, sleepover parties and private jokes that I wasn’t a part of. And in the years to come; that I would never be a part of.
One day we were outside having lunch when Becky said: “Why aren’t you allowed to come to sleepovers or Brownies?” I looked down at my hands and tried not to cry. They wouldn’t understand, but the little lion in me tried and I said: “My parents said it’s not in our culture.” Becky exchanged looks with Stephanie who shrugged. Becky rolled her eyes and said: “So you’re not allowed to go to sleepovers or Brownies because of your culture?” Inside I breathed a sigh of relief: they had understood! I felt a little bubble of elation rise in my chest as I admired how understanding my friends were. Oh how wrong I was. Becky laughed and Stephanie joined in. She leaned across the table, raised her eyebrows and with a twisted smile said: “Well then you, your parents and your culture are stupid. I’m glad I’m not you!”
Shrill, cruel girlish laughter echoed in my ears as I felt my face burn and my stomach tie itself into knots. I’d run into the toilets, locked myself in the nearest cubicle and began to cry silently. I tried to remove the red thread that my grandma had so lovingly tied to my wrist and tried to hide my khara inside my cardigan sleeve. More tears rushed down my cheeks until my head ached and my tear ducts had given up on me. I slowly wiped my tears away and examined the folds of the red thread and the cool shine of the khara on my wrist: I smiled. I didn’t need their friendship bracelets. I had had one all this time.