One fine evening I receive a telephone call. It is Apple and she has to share something very important, as she informs me.
"Yes, you have told me so much about her. What happened? You two had a fight?"
"No. it is something else, something very serious." Here she starts padding out of the living room to huddle somewhere in the veranda with the cell phone. (Apple’s mother later recounted the scene)
"Aimen Omair has left school!” She says after settling down in a corner where nobody can hear her.
The nature of the emotional upheaval dawns upon me.
"Oh no! Apple this is so sad."
"Yes. Now I don’t even feel like going to school. You know she used to sit with me. And she always stood first while I came second. Now that she is not here I will stand first…not that I am happy about it.”
Good bye is a mixed baggage.
"Yes, standing first is no compensation for losing a friend. Do you have her phone number? You can always call her, or maybe visit her sometime." I try not to read too much between the lines.
"Phone number! You know what...she wrote her number in my school diary and it is: 1234567. Do you think it could be anybody’s number! And she said she lived in Islamabad in a house with a black gate! I can’t check every house with a black gate!"
Now a note of exasperation creeps into her voice, momentarily replacing sadness.
"Yes, checking every black gate can be…well, tedious. You do have other friends?" I try to somehow assuage her.
"Yes, there is one boy I sit with. He is not very hard working. Actually I made Aimen Omair study hard, and I taught her English and Urdu...."
"So you can also train your new friend."
"Yes, but boys are so unruly. She is not here, now I will stand first but I am not happy about it. I miss her."
"I know Apple, I am so sad for you. But you have so much work lined up for you: you have to train your new friend so that he can stand first."
"Yes, I will make him work. I will tell you how it goes…but I do miss Aimen Omair."
So every good bye is also a new beginning. In seven-year-old Apple’s case it is about training her new friend.