She walked like a penguin

She walked like a penguin and had hair like a lion’s mane.

We laughed as her eyes
mocked other girls we knew.

She taught me cuss words
And told me she did not know their meanings

So we danced as the sun cried.
Then, we promised
We’d never say them till we knew.

We cried both ways-
When we were sad and betrayed, and also
Because her stories were getting funnier each day.

She would make the whole hundred and three of us laugh
But I was the only one who would laugh until
My body bled water made of hilarious gossip.

She always nagged me to eat like she did.
She ate like an elephant
though she would never get fat.

She would shake her head and laugh some days
For she thought I ate too little
And yet, gained way too much.

She told me,
We would be friends forever and ten days
And that she’d be the hairdresser at my wedding
Someday (if I ever did marry).

Then we’d take pictures in colour
and we would turn them vintage sepia
So we looked prettier and her acne wouldn’t show.

She liked to hate people sometimes,
It was her noontime hobby
And for a grim fortnight or so,
I was also victim to her cruel game.

I forgave her soon enough.

Though she had other best friends,
who were down south
In that place where politicians’ children got
Educated at the price of a few starving families
Back home. She always loved them more.

She told me all this later
And that too only because she was high on some
Chemical she had found in a small room behind
The chemistry lab at school.

It was there that she would go
To roll paper torn from a classmate notebook
And then burn it to inhale the smoke
It did not matter that there was no tobacco
She preferred the white powder that the lab assistant had.

I once asked her if it was dangerous
Then, she looked into my soul
And laughed through her tears.

That was all that was needed in the moment-
Laughter birthed from intense misery

She was hilariously beautiful
With all her hidden pain.

And one day, she made me promise
I’d write poems for her
And for our moments of secret laughter
If ever we should walk on different sides of the road.

Photo credit: H o l l y. / IWoman / CC BY

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