Today is a difficult letter. I didn’t want to do the obvious Xmas or X-rated. So here’s something I thought encompasses a little of both – love and sex. For today’s A to Z Challenge, I give you X is for X and O.
X is for X and O
It started with X and O. Back then, we called it eckssandzeero, running the syllables into one another and letting them slip off our tongues. Deep would have nothing to do with us kids then. But when I spotted the telltale grids in his notebook, I pounced on it. He turned his nose up and snatched the book away from me. Then he scoffed at me and told me it was called Cross and Noughts. See here the cross, he explained. And what’s not, I wanted to know. He didn’t know. But that’s O, I exclaimed, pointing to the loops, proud of my alphabetical ability. No, he said decisively, it’s not. Then what is it, I asked. Nought, he replied with the superior wisdom of fourth standard.
Then Samir came into the room and began tugging my skirt so I went away to play with him. Deep was interesting but I didn’t like him very much then. That pretty much sums up my lifetime’s attitude to him, anyway.
Rivi was my best friend. She wore a pink hairband and her curls shook when she laughed. She laughed every time she won. I would get sad. Then I would look at her clapping her hands. And she would see my face and put her arms around me. And I wouldn’t be sad anymore.
She’s the one who taught me tic-tac-toe. I liked the sound of it. It’s musical. I remember the song that accompanied the game.
Tic tac toe
Round we go
If you miss
I take this
Of course, that one is from the game called hopscotch but back then, I thought it was about this one and I’d sing it diligently every time I played and lost. I always did, to Rivi.
I never enjoyed games all that much as a child. That probably explains why I bypassed the ubiquitous three-in-a-row. It wasn’t till I got to college and had to program an algorithm to play the game, that I even learnt the rules. I still didn’t like it. Two years later, I switched streams and moved to Developmental Psychology. And there I encountered it again. It was now interesting but I still couldn’t see the appeal of it.
Then Rivi walked into the room. She waltzed in like it was her home. At first, I didn’t recognize her. I had been away for over seven years, after all.
“What are you reading?”
she inquired without so much as a hello.
And before I could respond, she walked over and slid the book towards herself. I think it triggered some distant memory. (Or maybe it was because I’d been reading Alan Baddeley on human information storage through the night).
“Rivi. How are you?”
“Grown up. But you’re still playing Noughts and Crosses.”
I stared back. How did she manage to stay so supremely self-confident? I didn’t remember her as a particularly bright child.
“Are you looking for Samir? He’s…”
“You don’t remember, do you? Noughts and crosses. You were so insistent, so superior in your fourth standard uniform, lording it over us kindergarten kids.”
I took my book back.
“You weren’t in kindergarten. First or second, at least.”
She tilted her head to one side slightly, the action causing a curtain of hair to shade one eye. Then she turned and moved around the table. Her hair fell over her shoulder in perfect waves and was imitated in the smooth curves of her back and..
“How do you know?”
I sucked in my breath and my gaze back.
“You were wearing the primary school uniform. Kindergarten had a different uniform, remember?”
“You were paying that much attention to what I was wearing then? Naughty, naughty.”
I turned away. Rivi always disturbed me. But as an adult, I knew just how to handle her.
Rivi should never have come over that day. She knew I was leaving on one of those days. And she’s the one who told me that we should never see each other again. I had begged and pleaded with her. And then, because she seemed so resolute, I decided to take the Bangalore job.
But she came back.
Deep never used to like her, when we were kids. He thought she was too bossy. He was right, she was. But it never bothered me. I’ve known Rivi all my life. At that juncture, I just felt rudderless without her. She taught me everything I know. Everything.
Rivi was my first and my only. I know I wasn’t her first. When we talked about it, back in college, she had laughed (those curls!).
“It’s time, you dope. Go, get laid. It’s not that difficult.”
“What makes you think I haven’t?”
“Because you haven’t come tearing across the lawn, still in your birthday suit, to tell me about it. You know you will.”
I hated her at that moment and loved her at the same time. She knew me so well. She knew it and twisted the knife in the wound, anyway. I sighed and went glum.
“What now? You’ve got that look. That, that look. You’re mooning over some girl. Tell me, who is she??!”
I told her and started to walk away.
She jumped off the parapet she’d be sitting on and followed me. Then I smiled. I couldn’t help it.
“Remember X and O?”
“X and O?”
“Never mind that. What about the girl? Who is she?”
“Rivi, don’t you remember?”
She had the grace to blush as memory dawned on her.
“You’re nuts. That…that never happened.”
“Strip X and O, Rivi. Loser has to show theirs. What a little perv you were!”
And that’s when she kissed me.
Samir was the one. And also, Deep. Samir irritated me but I adored him anyway. Deep annoyed me but I was fascinated anyway. These Pathak men. That doesn’t sound exactly right considering I’ve known them both all their lives. But ‘the Pathak boys’ doesn’t sound right either since Deep has never been a boy. Samir and Deep, that’s what I used to tell my mother, I’m going to Samir-and-Deeps-house.
I wonder if I can continue to say that in the future. Where do you live? In Samir-and-Deeps-house. Who is your family? Samir-and-Deep.
I’m holding the two ring boxes, one in each hand. They are identical, a single solitaire diamond in the center, with a funny golden curve around it like a 70s ‘flip’ wig. Looks like Samir-and-Deep went ring shopping together. The bond of brothers and all.
Deep got my game, Samir was my game.
They’re not going to put this one on me. I put the ring boxes down and put the two rings on the newspaper. With a red pen, I trace a grid around them, putting them in the second box of each row, one horizontal, one vertical. And in the corner, next to both of the, I draw X.
I want them both. I choose Samir-and-Deep. I pick up the rings and put one on the second finger of each hand.
It ended with X and O.
*Image via digitalart on FreeDigitalPhotos.net