We were best friends since we were eight years old, with our hair in pigtails and tied with white ribbons.
Bobita was quiet while I was loud. We walked to school together and shared our lunch every day. She didn’t have a lot to eat, just a container of puffed rice with two sugar cookies while my lunch box contained vegetable sandwiches, fruit, cake and milk. She never wanted to take more than half a banana or a small corner of cake and I could never understand why she bowed her head and stared at her puffed rice.
One Sunday afternoon I walked into her house to see if she wanted to play with the other kids when I heard someone crying. I found Bobita standing against the kitchen wall, the sink full of dirty steel plates, glasses, spoons and pans.
She turned, her eyes swollen and her face wet. I ran to her, just in time to catch her.
“What’s the matter with you Bobita?” I said holding her in my arms.
“I…I’m so hungry Meena! My aunt says she won’t give me lunch today because I didn’t finish washing these dishes before I left for school this morning. I’m so tired…sometimes I think I might fall down one day and never stand up again.”
I washed her soapy hands and sat her down on the floor, letting her body lean against the cabinet behind her. My eyes darted around the kitchen.
“I don’t see your aunt anywhere.”
“She went to the mall to buy lipstick and perfume.”
“When will she be back?” I asked.
I let her lean against me as we walked down the street to my house.
“What’s wrong?” My mama cried out as soon as she saw us limp into the kitchen.
“Mama, she hasn’t had anything to eat since breakfast today.”
I watched as my mama fed her rice, fish curry, yogurt and sliced cucumbers. Then I watched Bobita’s eyelashes cast shadows beneath her eyes and heard a faint snore escape her mouth. I wished she belonged to me, a sister with whom I could share my life. Every day for the next six months, I brought Bobita home after school and watched as my mama fed us both. Sometime before winter vacation, I heard my dad tell my mama that he had found Bobita’s dad and that she no longer had to live with her hateful aunt. When Bobita’s dad came to take her home with him, Bobita’s aunt was out buying lipstick and perfume.
I went to the train station with my parents to bid Bobita and her father farewell. My mama hugged and kissed her, as if she was my real sister. I wiped my eyes as Bobita unzipped her travel bag to take out a plastic box, revealing a large piece of fruit cake inside.
I heard the last whistle. I heard the wheels clamor on the tracks below. I saw the tears roll down her face and we shared cake for the last time.