by Padmini Krishnan
Judy jumped down from the bus; it was almost 8:30 am and she was just on time for the assembly. She noticed a decaying building next to the newly erected cellphone tower. She had never seen that old building before. A little confused, she ran to the school. Though the big gate of St. Mary’s School was open, there was no one on the school ground. Had everyone gone to the assembly? Judy tiptoed nervously to the prayer hall, but it was empty. Judy scratched her head, thinking. Her parents would have told her if it was a holiday. She took out her handphone. Should she call her mother? Judy gasped. She could not remember her parents’ phone numbers and the call log on her phone was empty.
Suddenly she heard somebody giggling. Judy ran out to find a couple of girls about her age, staring at her curiously. They had knee-length grey skirts and long grey socks and wore their hair in braids. The taller girl walked up to Judy. “Hello, I am Rosemary; I am the class leader of Grade 3.”
“Which school are you from?” gaped Judy, trying hard to work out which school had long grey skirts. “I am looking for my classmates.”
“St. Mary’s School”. The girl smiled. “Our principal told us that a girl would come from the future. We were to make her welcome.”
Judy stared at them for a minute, “Am I from the future? Which year is this? My Principal didn’t tell me anything.”
The other girl who was examining Judy’s short hair and ankle socks said, “This is 1935. Our principal said that a girl from the twenty-first century would come the next day. We are to interact with her and find out things.”
Judy was angry that her principal had told her nothing. She would have worn her best dress and asked her grandma how to talk to kids from the 1930s. “Come on. Let us go to class. Our classmates are waiting for you.”
Judy shuffled uncomfortably as the third-grade girls stared at her. Some looked excited whereas the others seemed disappointed as though they were expecting something more. Mary and Judith peeped at the new girl from the last bench. They had been scared when their principal made a sudden announcement the day before that a girl from the future would visit their class. They did not understand how their classmates could take the news of a ‘future student’ so easily. Both of them had also noticed the big tower that stood on the left side of their old stock exchange building. Judith seemed fascinated by the steel tower. However, Mary thought the tower looked like a partially-constructed skeleton. Suddenly Mary exclaimed, “Judith, the new girl looks like you.”
Judith raised her head to look at Judy. Mary was right.
“Yes. If you cut your hair, you would look the same.”
Judy looked around. Her eyes stopped in the last row. A girl was bent over her book, apparently shy. She looked familiar. Judy walked over to her, “I am Judy,” she held out her hand. Judith looked up and Judy gasped. She felt as if she was looking into the mirror.
“My name is Judith,” the other girl said in a low voice.
“Can I sit near you?” asked Judy.
Judith made way for her and both the girls sat next to each other. Mary edged away to the corner of the desk, tears in her eyes. She felt betrayed that Judith no longer seemed scared of the new girl. They would be friends now that both of them looked like each other.
Judy found her surname in Judith’s note and sat quietly, thinking. Was it possible that this girl, Judith, was her great-grandma after whom she was named? She looked the same and shared her surname. Her great grandma had gone to St. Mary’s, her mom often told her. Judy looked at Judith, reluctantly. She did not want to tell Judith that she, Judy, was her great-grandchild for she did not know how the girl would take it.
Judith looked at Mary from the corner of her eyes. Mary tossed her head, staring at the first row, which was always unoccupied. Nobody sat there, until the teacher summoned them. In normal circumstances, Judith would have never befriended a new girl so soon, leave alone a girl from the future, but she somehow felt connected to this girl.
“Oh. I lost my Maths note. I wonder if I left it at home or lost it on the way,” a girl called Anita squealed from the third row.
“Why don’t you just call home and ask? “Judy handed her cellphone.
“What is it? A toy?” The girls crowded around her to take a better look.
“No. It is a handphone,” laughed Judy, “Did you notice the cellphone tower outside? You can call people, exchange text messages, play games and watch TV shows and movies.”
“Can we also watch talkies?” another girl asked.
“Are movies called talkies? I am sure you can.”
“Just imagine we don’t have to go to the theatre.” the girl reached out her hand and said, “Please, can I take a look?”
“Sure, but let us call Anita’s mom first,” Judy beckoned to Anita and asked for her number. The girls stared in wonder as Anita talked to her mom.
“Does it have no wires?”
“Will it give me electrocution?”
“Can we carry it anywhere?”
As Judy answered their questions, a hush fell in the room. The history teacher had come to the class. She had wavy hair, parted on the side. She welcomed Judy with a smile and asked her to take the front seat. Judy walked over followed by Judith. Mary glowered at this, moving to the center of the last bench.
They had a class about the First World War. Judy felt that it was a lot more detailed than her history classes. The history teacher also told them how they had to help with their family in these ‘tough’ times.
History was followed by Maths and Science. Science in 1935 seemed very easy. Judy was a little bored in Maths class as she had already mastered the problems a couple of years ago. The Maths teacher chatted with Judy. Her eyes widened when she learned that Judy knew multiplication and division. “What do they teach in secondary school, I wonder,” she said longingly.
During recess, the other girls shared their food with the ‘new’ girl. Judy realized that she had never tasted anything as delicious as the homemade loaves Judith had brought. It was even better than the ones grandma made. After all, grandma would have learned from Judith.
Judith looked guiltily at Mary sulking by herself in a corner of the lunch hall. Mary had walked away earlier when Judith and Judy tried to talk to her. Judy looked a little amused as well as worried.
“Is she your best friend? She doesn’t like me?”
“Yes. She is scared of you as you are from the future. She wants me to be scared too.”
“But you are allowed to talk to whom you want.” Judy looked down as she said this. She remembered how possessive she had been when her best friend’s cousin had come for a visit.
“I would do the same if Mary befriends a new girl. But, I don’t want to miss this opportunity to be your friend. I will make it up to her later.” Judith smiled.
As the school came to an end that evening, Judith hugged Judy. The rest of the girls huddled around and bade her farewell. “It is your turn next. You have to travel to 2020.” Judy invited them to her world as tears threatened to trickle to her cheeks. The girls looked at her but did not reply which made Judy wonder if they knew something more than she did.
Judy felt drowsy as she walked to the bus stop. She turned back for a moment to see Mary walking over to a tearful Judith. They were going to be friends again, Judy thought with relief.
She was exhausted when she reached home. She ran to her grandma’s room with her schoolbag.
“You look so tired, dear,” her grandma said. “Your bag is heavy. Didn’t you eat your lunch?”
Judy felt that she had to share something important with her grandma, but her mind was blank.
It had something to do with homemade loaves and a girl, but what was it?
“I am tired, grandma. I think I will go to sleep.”
Grandma smiled suddenly; she looked years younger and her eyes sparkled.
Judith?? Judy looked up in shock. Grandma knew. In a flash, Judy remembered everything that taken place throughout the day.
“Grandma, you knew everything. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I am sorry, dear. Your school Principal called me in the morning and told me of the time travel. It takes place once in hundred years. It was to be a secret.”
“But, who told the Principal about the time travel? And why were those girls from the 1930s informed?” Judith looked cross.
“I have no answer to that, dear. The last time travel incident took place in 1921. A couple of boys from 1921 were selected to interact with school kids from 1830. The two boys were not informed too.”
Judy looked mollified as she processed this, “But why me, grandma?”
Grandma smiled at her, “You are the chosen one, Judy. I always knew that you are special.”
“But, Grandma…” Judy asked in a soft voice, “Didn’t you want to meet your mom? Weren’t you curious as to what she looked like as a child?”
“I badly wanted to go with you, Judy,” Grandma said, gently, “But rules are rules. You were the only one allowed to go.”
“Who makes these rules? The Principal?”
Grandma pointed to the sky, “It is beyond all of us.”
“God told the Principal to select me?”
“Judy, it is getting late.”
“And who put that old building next to the cellphone tower?”
Grandma frowned. She never liked the idea of a cellphone tower so close to a school.
“I think I like the teachers from 1935 more than my teachers. They are so polite” Judy muttered, sleepily.
“Now I think you should go to sleep.” Grandma felt very tired all of a sudden.
Judy felt confused again as her head touched the pillow. Blissfully lost in her dreams of future, Judy completely forgot the occurrences of the day.
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