The mysterious friend

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The car stopped. The rasping sound of the car tires grating against the concrete road echoed in the air. Was it the car? Or just echoes of unfamiliarity?

John and Jen with their five-year-old daughter, Lisa, had moved to the city for better jobs.

They stood in front of their house, a cottage which was a little gloomy, with its dusty cream wall paint. The neighbourhood was dull. The traffic raised dust in the air, gave a sense of grittiness in their throat, and made the sky as grey as a shadow of a burnt field. It differed from their hometown, where the ponds and streams reflected green. Scrubs and trees, on which birds chirped and flitted from branch to branch, surrounded their farm.

As John and Jen were peering around. Lisa hopped to the backyard fluttering her yellow frock, crayons, and colouring book in her hand pressed against her chest. A tall tree, half-dead with barren branches, stood in the backyard, looking like an overused paintbrush. Lisa stared at it with her blue eyes. She plopped on the ground; the grass wasn’t soft; it poked her. She leapt up.

*****

It was summer, and schools were closed. Lisa’s parents were busy with their new jobs and in the making of a comfortable life, which brought them so far. They arranged a nanny for Lisa, Mia. She was a young lady with a captivating persona; her deliberately chosen clothes made her appealing to others. Her honeyed words easily persuaded Jen to count on her, but the grumpy, lazy girl spent her time sleeping and watching television.

“How you live without eating, huh? Just love yourself a little,” said Mia, mocking the models on Fashion TV.

“I’m hungry,” said Lisa.

“Grab something from the refrigerator and help yourself,” said Mia gravely.

Lisa never liked Mia, but she never complained. Her young brain hadn’t learned the concept of rebellion yet.

The day ended, the clock stroke six. Lisa’s parents returned home, but today they got her something she had wanted for a long time, an enormous dollhouse with pink walls, sheer tiny curtains, a little bathtub, and a small kitchen. Lisa jumped on the sofa, thrilled.

Lisa arranged the dollhouse with her father.

“Will you play with me, Dad?” asked Lisa.

“I will, Princess,” said John.

“Every day?” asked Lisa with curious eyes.

“Whenever I am free, Sweetie,” said John, patting Lisa’s head.

The weekend ended faster than Lisa wanted, and she was again left with Mia. She often left Lisa alone in the house and went out for hours without anyone’s knowledge. Lisa played on her own, locked up inside.

Once Jen was back home early and found Lisa alone. Mia was easily out of trouble with her cunning ways. She made up stories for her escape.

“I understand it was an emergency. I’m aware of your ailing mother, but at least call me next time, Mia,” said Jen.

“I will take care of it. It such a shame I had to leave Lisa on her own,” said Mia.

****

“Should we make some tea?” said Bella.

“But Mr Brown likes coffee more,” said Lisa, pointing at her giant teddy bear.

“Do you like tea?” asked Bella

“Yes, but Mommy never allows me to have some. She gives me milk every day. She says it will make me stronger,” said Lisa.

“If you drink milk every day, you will become a big girl soon,” said Bella.

“Yes, then I can have tea,” said Lisa.

Both the girls giggled.

Bella was Lisa’s new friend. They had become good friends in the snap of a finger as if they were pieces of the same puzzle.

Mia was back. She opened the door with a thud.

“You scared us, ” Lisa said angrily.

“Us? Who, you and your hideous teddy?” asked Mia with an inflection in her voice.

“No, me and Bella,” said Lisa.

Mia didn’t respond and left the room. She didn’t want to ruin her good mood.

John and Jen were back from work. Lisa was cleaning up after playing with her dollhouse.

“How was your day, Sweetie?” asked Jen.

“It was nice, Mommy. Me and Bella enjoyed it a lot,” said Lisa with elation.

“Is Bella your friend, Lisa? Does she come to our house?” asked Jen.

“Yes, Mommy, she stays with me till you and Dad return.”

“Mia knows her, Lisa,” replied Jen.

“Bella doesn’t like Mia,” said Lisa, rolling her eyes.

Jen took a pause, but she was too tired. She kept the thought lingering in her mind and said, “okay, come to dinner.”

John and Jen got new neighbours. An old couple who had moved from a nearby locality because they wanted a larger backyard. They were friendly and also were very fond of Lisa. John and Jen liked them.

****

Two months passed, and schools were open. Lisa went to a nearby school, but she was not willing to make new friends.

The new neighbours saw Mia slipping out of the house time and again after John and Jen left for work. They informed Jen about it.

“How can you be so irresponsible, Mia?” cried Jen. “You left a five-year-old on her own in a locked house!” Her eyes were glaring with rage.

“I can explain..,” said Mia in a trembling voice, the shrill tone in her voice further assured the milk was spilt.

“You don’t need to come anymore,” said John.

“We will just leave her,” yelled Jen.

Hearing this, Mia did what first came to her mind. She started running out of the house to avoid further trouble, but she stumbled on the stairs. John bursts into laughter. Mia got up, stroked her dress, then trudged away without looking back.

“We won’t see her in this area anymore for certain,” said John with a grin, scratching his chin.

Jen squinted at John.

Lisa sighed. She was glad Mia went away.

“Can I have some cake, Mommy,” asked Lisa.

“Yes, you can, Sweetie,” said Jen.

Lisa took a piece of the cake and went to her dollhouse.

“Should we get a new nanny?” asked John.

“I don’t think that’s required anymore. Lisa stays in school most of the day, and I will try to get back home early. The neighbours also offered to help. They said they can take care of Lisa till we are back from work,” said Jen.

“We can try that for a few weeks,” said John.

After a pause, Jen spoke again, “Lisa’s teacher called and even I have noticed that Lisa has only one friend, Bella. She is reluctant to make other friends.”

“It’s okay if she wants only one friend,” said John.

“The problem is Bella isn’t real,” said Jen, her forehead creased.

“What? Is that the issue? I am worried about her,” said John.

“We need to talk to Lisa and also be with her more. The teacher said it’s not a major issue. Lots of kids have imaginary friends. It’s just she also needs to make real friends,” said Jen.

“Let’s take a few days off,” said John.

“ Yes, we should take some days off,” agreed Jen as she rested her tilted head on her fisted palm.

John embraced Jen in his arms. “Lisa will be fine, alright?”

“Our little girl will be fine,” said Jen. John glanced at Lisa, who was busy playing with her dolls.

“Can I join your tea party, Princess,” cried John from the living room.

Lisa gave a huge smile, showing all her crooked teeth.

“You are always welcome, Dad.”

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