The sun cascaded down on the biggest row house in the colony: the Sharmas’ house. It was three p.m. in the afternoon but the weather seemed pleasant and calm.
“Hey, I need some he-” said Jia, coming from her room.
“In your head, in your head, zombie, zombieeeeee-”, she heard a voice singing loudly on top of their lungs.
“Please, stop it,” said Jia, placing a hand on her head whilst switching off the Bluetooth device.
“Okay, the next time you do that, I am going to murder you in your dreams”, said Nikhil, annoyed at her.
“It’s three p.m. outside. People are living their lives calmly, and then there’s you, singing like a dying goat. What the hell Nikhil?”
“Why are you here again?”, he asked, tapping his foot impatiently.
“I needed help with an essay,” she said, coming into his room, sitting on the swivel chair with a thud.
“Why? Do you finally agree that I am more intelligent than you?”, he mocked her.
“Ha ha”, she said blankly. “You’re such a narcissist”, she rolled her eyes.
He smacked her head with a pillow.
“Anyway, what’s the topic?”, he asked her, grinning at his victory.
“Freedom. Just freedom. How am I supposed to write anything on freedom?”, she asked him, folding her arms.
“Ugh”, he said with frustration. “Can you ever do anything by yourself?”
“Look who’s talking. Don’t forget that you’re the same person who asks me to make you cheese sandwiches every morning, help you with math, buy you ice-creams and-”
“Uff okay okay, I get it. Well, what is freedom to you?”, he asked her. She thought for some time about it.
“Freedom to me is being free from your pillow fights”, she laughed.
“I swear to God, where are your brains when you need them?”, he huffed at her.
“Relax. What is freedom to you?”, she asked him.
“Well, freedom to me is a country’s independence; being free from bloodshed and wars. A state where everything is at peace”, he said.
“But I see freedom differently. To me, freedom is being free from something I struggle doing, or maybe how people have their opinions about me” said Jia, thinking carefully.
Nikhil smiled silently and looked up to her asking, “Since when did you start caring about what other people think of you?”
“Aur tu kabh se mera khayaal rakhne lag gaya?”, she asked with a teary sparkle in her eyes.
“Guess we all grow up with time.” said Nikhil.
Jia lost track of their conversation for a moment. Realizing that her surroundings had suddenly turned into an emotional environment, she quickly put aside her emotions and asked him, “Jalebi khaane jaaye?”
“Haan, chalo”, he agreed without any debate.
Nikhil glanced at the village boys fearlessly jumping into the swift currents of the river and laughed saying, “Freedom to me would be to be able to swim in the river without having the fear of drowning or worse, getting slapped by mom for doing it.”
“You sounded like Hermione Granger for a second-”, said Jia.
“You sound like Lord Voldermot literally every second of your life. But I don’t judge that, do I?”, he said, teasing her.
“Stop it Nikhil!'', said an annoyed Jia.
“You know what freedom actually is to me? It is being in a utopian state where there is no hindrance or people bothering you”, he said, thanking the jalebi vendor.
“Ah, well, we finally have something to agree on”, she said, taking a hot jalebi in her hands.
“Arey yaar, freedom har cheez mein hai”, he said.
“Kaise?”, she said, now taking the entire plate from him.
“Do you ever feel like being a bird, flying away without any worries, without being bothered about anything?”, he questioned her.
“And when the bird gets hit by an airplane, that’s when your freedom is snatched. You’re basically dead,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
“Way to kill the mood Jia”, said Nikhil rolling his eyes.
“And that’s not possible, by the way.”
“Basically, freedom is temporary according to me,” said Jia, entering their house.
“Wow, you have a very negative mindset”, Nikhil said, smacking her head.
“Nikita, tell me; our country got its independence, the people in our country were given the assurance of a free nation free from any bad. But is our country still ‘free’ the way it should be? Do you think any country is ‘free’ the way it should be?” she said, sitting on the sofa.
“Well, that’s true”, he said sitting beside her.
“And, do you think you or I will ever be free from the remarks that people make about us? That I can’t be your sister because I am not sporty, or that you can’t score good marks because you are into sports?”, she questioned.
“Well, then you have a different approach to it. Freedom is when you don’t bother what they say”, he said coolly.
“I-”, she began but stopped, sensing that he was right.
“See, whatever happens, whenever freedom comes, it is always good which is why whenever it happens, we should enjoy every moment of it. And freedom is not just being free from something or someone, it’s also the way you perceive it”, he finished, standing up.
“Way to go Nikita, philosophy much?”, Jia said, clapping her hands dramatically.
“If you call me Nikita again, I will be the worst person you’re ever going to know”, he said, looking at her with serious eyes.
“You know what I actually want freedom from? Your annoying self!” exclaimed Jia, running to her room.
Guess we’ll never know what was written in the essay…
Writers: Mahira Pathania and Amrita Pillai
Editor: Achala Athreya