Eva was ringing the bell like she was training for some bell ringing competition. It was the signal for us to finish cleaning up the tell tale signs of our just finished bare hands dining experience. The much awaited event of the night was going to commence.
The bell did wonders I must concede. Everyone was in the hall in no time. Once again, everybody looked charming, clean and coiffed.
Eva looked around. She wanted to make sure everybody was there. All eyes were fixed on her. She got the attention. It was time to start.
“This party is not just about us celebrating what we have just accomplished for ourselves it is also an affair to express our gratitude to those among us who have helped make our struggle to where we are possible.”
Eva paused like she wanted to make sure she had all ears glued to every word she had to say.
She did not have to check. She knew that whenever she opened her mouth everyone hung on to every word she would speak. She wasn’t everyone’s Miss Congeniality for nothing.
“Tonight we are going to toast to each one among us who we think deserves our special mention.”
The silence exploded. Shrieks and vigorous applauses thundered on every nook of the room.
“Who would like to start the ball rolling?” Eva asked.
I could see a sea of hands raised. Everyone wanted to take the first shot. My hand was up instantly. I waved it like mad. It was like I was afraid no one would notice I was there and they would just leave me out.
This was the part of the party that played like a broken record in my mind ever since we had it planned some two months back. I had always longed for an occasion to let my heart talk to everyone in the group. I owe it to them. I would not forgive myself if I would let this one chance slip away.
“Me!” I shouted. Eva did not notice me. She called on someone else. I raised my hand again and again and again and again Eva just fleeted her eyes away from me.
“I should not worry. I would have my turn.” I whispered to myself.
A toast after toast ensued mostly for Nicola and Eva. No one forgot to toast to their best friends. I heard the word “ best friend” so many times. “Wow!” I thought. If there would ever be such a thing like a “friendship night”, this was how it should be.
Then it dawned to me. If this was friendship night, why had I not heard anyone mention my name? Why was I not on anyone’s best friend list? Had I deluded myself into believing we had finally bridged the class divide that set me and them apart and we had finally become good friends?
I tried reassuring myself. “The most popular girl in class would not forget you.” I muttered to myself as I threw glance at Eva. I knew in my heart I was on top of her list.
I saw her nod her head as she trained her eyes on the group. She still seemed to think I was not around. A feeling of de javu swept over me. I felt I was being transported back to the time when this very same people treated me like dirt.
“God!” I closed my eyes and prayed. “Eva worked so hard to get us all bridge our differences so we could all be friends. Please Lord, don’t let her work burn to nothing.”
I heard everybody cheering. “Go Rebecca go!”
I opened my eyes. I saw Rebecca walking towards the podium. She carried with her a nicely wrapped box. I wondered what she was up to.
That could not be a gift she was holding. We never talked about gifts when we planned the whole affair unless there was something I missed.
Rebecca looked real pretty. Beautifully pretty. She was what a "modern glam" young woman should look. She exuded a pleasant aura. The once hated witch had really transformed herself.
She was basking on the attention. She took her time. I wondered if it was a skill they had learned from some finishing school. But these girls really know the heart and craft of freezing the attention of people to themselves.
She had all her timing right. Just before anyone started turning impatient, she unwrapped the box very slowly.
A deafening silence ensued. All of us were holding on to our breath. Then like a magician, Betty pulled out what was inside the box.
There was collective sound of “wow!”. It was like some unseen conductor lifted his baton as a sign for everybody to utter just that word all at one time.
Out of the box emerged a beautiful blue satin dress. I had not seen a dress as beautiful like it before. But of course, I did not move in a circle where expensive beautiful dresses were as common as worn out dresses were in my own milieu.
But even this crowd that was so used to seeing a real “ haute couture” still gasped with admiration at what they saw.
Betty began to speak
“I would like to offer this toast to Julia.”
She looked at me while deliberately taking a long pause.
All eyes were on me. My fear was totally unplaced. Their eyes lighted. I was wrong. Only friends could gaze at you in the way they did.
This was not how I expected the events to flow. I was surprised. No, I was not surprised. I was stunned. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not just under hypnotic spell. I was not entranced. It was all true.
Rebecca went on with her speech. “She made me realize a lots of things about myself which I had been ashamed of and which I had been working very hard to change.”
“Oh please! Cut the drama” shouted Sasha, the group’s self appointed joker .
Loud laughter ensued. Betty missed her cue on this one. This was the point, she was suppose to laugh with her audience but she went on with her speech not a bit affected
“ I offer her this dark blue velvet dress. It is not white if you notice” she said. This time looking at everybody with a hint of smile.
“Now, Julia, if anyone would make the mistake of spilling ink into this dress, the splotches would not show."
Nicola. always in her element, interrupted.
“Come on Betty, given the gravity of your offense against Julia, you should have at least asked your mom to buy a real expensive dress in one of her trips to Paris. It should not be one you just asked your nanny to buy from a flea market.’’
The comment was calculated to elicit laughter and everybody laughed except for Betty.
She did the unexpected. She ran towards me. She handed me the dress. She embraced me tightly and started to cry. She did not need to say anything more. She said it all. This time there was no laughing. Everyone tried to hold back their tears but not me.
The witch finally found her way home.