My stomach was protesting just like it always did after my exams-concentrating on a paper that carries eighty marks, for two whole hours is, evidently, both mentally and physically draining. I rolled my eyes up to the dull blue sky (December had reduced our suffering quite a bit) as I recalled the questions that had tortured me and made me lose valuable time. I scoffed, thinking about one particular balancing problem-that equation couldn’t have been correct. I had spent nearly half an hour on it, placing different numbers in front of Potassium and Manganese and Hydrogen and Sulphur and pleading with them to just co-operate, and occasionally running my fingers through my hair and at one point gritting my teeth and banging my pen against the table, making the teacher in charge flick her eyes to me under her antique-gold-looking glasses. I had smiled at her sheepishly, and she had stared at me suspiciously (this was one of the few teachers that didn’t know me, and as a result, didn’t think I was an angel that could do no wrong) , moving her voluptuous body to the front of the classroom, making her bright orange silk sari ruffle with the gently-blowing breeze.

I was snapped back to the present when I heard a familiar voice calling out my name, and I turned just in time to catch my best friend as she flung herself into my arms. As I greeted her, she did that small twitchy thing with her eyes and cheek again, making my smile into my hand. I had never mentioned it to her, but it was something I had noticed a few months ago-sometimes, when she focused on something, her left cheek would twitch upwards, and her left eye would twitch downwards, making an altogether funny spectacle. It only lasted for two seconds, though, and she began happily telling me about all the marks she had lost. Apparently, she’d been stuck with the stupid problem too. I shook my head as she easily concluded that she had lost fifteen marks in total. She never failed to amuse me.

We made our way down the grey concrete stairs, still talking about exam-related subjects-well, she talked, and I added my input at times. Though we were both considered ‘loud’ people, she leaned more towards idle chatter, and I stayed quiet most of the time in casual conversation, content with laughing at other people’s jokes, and channelled my loudness into being more of a bold character formal interaction-wise (she generally preferred to stay away from the staff room, but I’d never found it a problem to speak freely with and point out problems to teachers), and being a better public speaker.

We reached the bottom of the tarred road-like slope, the sides of which were lined with plain green-on-white rectangular signs saying things like ‘Every Drop Is Precious’ and ‘Join the Eco Club-Plant a Tree Today’ (the latter always made me snort internally. Our Eco Cub hadn’t functioned in months). I settled into a leaning position near the ugly bright maroon and pale yellow gate, badly-painted with clumps of paint that I always wanted to scrape off clotted up at certain places, and the finishing touch of the picture was the elderly watchman standing near the open part of the gate, in his faded khaki uniform, leveling us all with a stern glare, his squinted eyes just daring us to make any attempt to leave the premises without his permission or a parent; his dark expression wiped away every trace of humour that might form due to his chipmunk-like features.

My best friend stood across from me, as I called another mutual friend over. As she reached us, I was startled into noticing something that most definitely hadn’t been there before. She beamed at us, her spotless face bright like the sun, and my face took on a slow grin as the bright light from the hot midday sun glinted off a shiny new something in her mouth and shooting me in the eye. It temporarily blinded me as it hit my glasses, and made me think of hundreds of tiny diamonds on display at one of those showrooms that no one could afford to even look at from a distance. My friend realized her mistake and rubbed the back of her head, making some pathetic excuse that she needed to go, but needless to say, the next half an hour was filled with merciless lighthearted teasing, after which I, taking pity on her, shared a few tips from my own experience in orthodontic treatment.

The challenge