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Mum said if I try to talk to people without giving up, it will one day break the ice. But that’s what I do, and still Annie doesn’t talk to me, not even when I offer her my favourite green pencil.

‘It’s chewed on the end. Eww!’ she always says before returning to her scribbles. Miss Gomes has told her more than once, gazing through glasses that make her resemble a praying mantis: ‘An ‘E’ has only three bars, Annie dear. How many? One, two, three.’

And yet she draws four, sometimes five. I think it’s the pigtails. Makes girls dumb, see? Stuff can’t get into their heads because the brain cannot sip it in through twisted strands.

So, I walked outside through our wicket gate on my own, like I’ve been doing ever since mum said I could. When old Mrs Mascarenhas from opposite appeared at her yellow-framed window, I knew mum had called and asked her to watch me; because then I wave at her, which makes her smile. Mrs Mascarenhas has no teeth, which makes me smile.

Found a bunch of them under the street lamp this time, those light green plants at ground level. My elbows dug into the soft soil as I stretched flat on the ground to watch closely. Black ants climbed all over me, the harmless big ones that turn brown when evening sunlight passes through them.

I extended a finger in slow motion to touch a leaf nearest to my nose. ‘Careful! Don’t blink, Vicky,’ I whispered to myself. A dark crescent outlined my fingernail from yesterday’s puddle fight with Xavier. Mum’s frowning face swam before my eyes the moment my finger came in contact with the leaf.

Every time I touch even one of the tiny greens, the soft branch clamps shut like a ziplock. After a few tries, they go all lazy, as if saying, ‘Oi, aren’t you tired of this? Go home now.’

The touch-me-nots were just that, today too. Some day, I hope to get the shyness out of them. Been trying everyday, see?

But Mum said it will never happen. I said the plants are plain stupid. I speak to them everyday, but at the slightest touch, they close. So she sat me on her lap and explained that the leaves closing is just a way for the herb to defend itself.

‘But I crushed them, Mum! Stomped on all of them. Pulled them out of the mud!’

‘Why did you do that, Vicky?’

‘Because they just snap shut, and I try so hard to be friendly!’

She sighed. ‘Plants take millions of years to evolve, Vicky. Just like some people take longer to change– they evolve slowly. Let those plants be, son.’ She held my muddy hand in her floury one. ‘Just never give up on people.’

Then she hugged me and cried.

I asked her what evolve was, but she didn’t answer. I thought it was revolve without the r. So, it must mean something like only half a circle on a merry-go-round. When I was dressed up as Saturn for our live solar system model in science class, Miss Gomes had asked me to revolve around Xavier, the Sun. Round and round I’d gone, rotating within my hula-hoop ring. Nice word, evolve. Easier than breaking-the-ice. Must tell Annie, that dimwit. Maybe she’ll understand too.

© vaidehi patil

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