After that day at Adventure Island, I was mildly heartbroken when Ashish pretended nothing had happened, despite the fact that I made several not-so-subtle nods that I had a crush on him. Eventually, I retreated too, and the remaining months of tenth grade passed with both of us pretending we were friends. He no longer seemed interested in anything more and I did not want to run after attention when he had put it directly on my lap. Well, before snatching it away too.

“He’s not doing anything because he’s scared about not getting head boy,” Bani said as she joined me in the canteen for lunch. Ashish had been away for the last week for all our lunches, busy campaigning for the elections. While Ashish, if elected, would only formally be the head boy two months later, when we went on to the eleventh grade, the elections were conducted a few months prior to give the new batch of Student Council members a chance to test the waters in the presence of their senior mentors.

I looked up from my food. “Huh?” I asked.

“About the fact that he likes you,” she announced. Bani knew? “He’s not doing anything because he thinks it’ll lower his chances of getting the position. You know? How teachers don’t pick the boys or girls who are dating because they’ll be too distracted to work?” she added, pretending to gag.

I looked down at my food, fiddling with the canteen biryani, suddenly losing my appetite. “How do you know about this? Did Ashish say something?”

“He didn’t have to.”

I blush, caught a little by surprise at how transparent my feelings have been, until the red feels like a ball slammed into my face. He had taken the punt to skip school to go to Adventure Island, but this – us – wasn’t worth the risk?

“He’s doing the right thing,” I said, defeated.

“You’re both so stupid. It’s just head boy, not the prime minister,” Bani replied, frustrated, choosing to focus on her spinach and corn sandwich, instead.

On the day of his faux-election (because the final votes were always subservient to what the teachers had pre-decided, just in case the student body went really berserk), I stood with Bani in the audience as our seniors counted the votes in such a dramatic fashion, it did feel like Lok Sabha tallies. Tanya, by a thumping majority, was announced head girl first. And then came the time for the head boy announcements

While Tanya’s win had been obvious – she was smart and pretty, what could be better? – Ashish’s was a close call. He was the crowd favourite and very well-liked overall, but not nearly as academically gifted as one needed to be to bag the position. Which is also why he had been so nervous in the weeks leading up to the election.

Still, his massive good-guy, popular appeal had successfully skewed the votes in his favour. When Ashish’s name was finally announced as the head boy, after a few minutes of debilitating contestation, the smile I saw on his face made it all worth it. I had never, ever seen his eyes glimmer like that.

As the audience dispersed and the anointed king and queen returned to their subjects, Ashish made his way to Bani and me.

“Congratulations, I’m so proud of you!” I said, playing with his hair, the way I knew he hated.

But this time, Ashish didn’t protest or get annoyed. Instead, he said: “Be my girlfriend.”

Right next to me, I could hear Bani squeal in excitement.


“I like you, Sana. So much. Will you be my girlfriend, please?” All the feelings of rejection I had stifled came rushing back. He had picked this thing over how he felt about me, and now that he had won one, he wanted both.

“Why? They could still take head boy away from you if they find out we’re dating, you know?” I said, dryly, a little late to taking offence at how he had not wanted me enough.

“I don’t care if they take it away, Sana. I just needed to know I could win. That’s all,” he said, affirmatively.

“And what if you had lost? What then?”

“It wouldn’t have changed what I’m asking right now,” Ashish said, smiling.

“Haan, but then I would’ve been the consolation prize, na?” I could tell I had stumped Ashish because he did not have a smooth answer at the tip of his tongue.

“Okay, you two are not ruining this,” Bani said, intervening. By which I mean, she used her hands to part us, stood in between, and smacked both of us on our shoulders. “There is no way you can be just friends after this, and we all know that. Sana,” she said, looking over at me, “he’s a little bit of a loser and his priorities are sometimes all over the place, like in this case, and you can be as mad at him as you like. But I also know that he really likes you.”

A few weeks later, I learned that Ashish had set his mind on a design school in the US, specifically Chicago. His research had told him that besides good grades, which he didn’t yet have, and a general talent for design, he also needed splendid extracurriculars and glowing recommendations to secure a scholarship that would get him out of the country. And so, whether it was the most absurd inter-school competitions or wanting to be head boy, he needed every notch on his belt possible.

“And you,” she said, pointing her finger at Ashish, '“you are the stupidest person I have ever met. Who puts being head boy over a girl like this?” she said, pointing at me with both her arms exaggeratedly. “If you do this again, I will be the first one to ask her to break up with you, but because I know you,” she said, and then looked at me tenderly, “and because I know you, you two have never been just friends. I saw this coming from the first day.”

“Please, you did not,” Ashish snorts.

“Ashish, I caught you literally smelling her hair,” she yelled, making his cheeks flush and eyes dart to the ground. “And you,” she said, pointing at me, “don’t shut up about him even though we spend the entire day with him. And I know he’s not that interesting. So yes, I saw it coming from a kilometre away. Can you please cut the crap and get together already?”

Before I could blink or process what Bani had just said, Ashish knelt down on one knee. “Sana, for the second time, will you please be my girlfriend?”

In one quick, crazy way, Ashish managed to prove to me what really mattered to him, above it all.

“Oh my GOD, get up! The principal is right over there,” I shrieked.

“Not until you say yes.”

“Yes, you idiot,” I said, as he finally let up and gained height. Looking in his eyes, I repeated, “Yes, I will.”

In our group dynamics, there had always been Bani and Ashish and Bani and Sana; suddenly, from that day on, Ashish and I were a subgroup too. In the middle of the day, amid breaks between classes, we stole moments, escaped from the crowded hallways, and found cosy nooks and alleys to touch, hug, kiss and love in.

Excerpted with permission from Fool Me Twice, Nona Uppal, Penguin Ebury Press.