The next few weeks went in a blur for Suri and Nila. First, they had their term tests and the little monkeys were busy buried in their books. Suri, after the incident at the ruins, had become very wary of venturing outside. He had started to spend more time indoors reading books or playing on his Game-Monkey Handheld. Sammy was a regular visitor at Suri’s house as he had become an integral part of Suri’s gang. Tommy, Eki, and Unni had welcomed him wholeheartedly and they spent a lot of time together.
They mostly hung out in Suri’s or Unni’s place. Sammy was still reluctant to venture into Titi street where Tommy and Eki lived. The only time they went to Sammy’s palatial house on Sifaka street, they had felt very uncomfortable. Sammy’s mother had made them feel unwelcome and after that they avoided going there. Sammy felt sad, but he knew he couldn’t do anything. Also, he liked spending time away from his home with his new friends.
Like Suri, Sammy preferred to stay indoors as well. It was not because of the events at the ruins, but it was the way he had been brought up. Sammy and his sister Silky rarely ventured outdoors. Whatever they had wanted, their father had made them available within their house. They had a full-length swinging course, a huge swimming pool, and even a tennis court. Born into luxury and having had everything at his beck and call, Sammy had grown tired of his lifestyle. So, it was a refreshing change when he started spending time with Suri, his friends, and his family. Especially, he was fond of Tara’s famous sponge cakes.
Silky, on the other hand, immersed herself into her fortunate lifestyle. She knew that their family’s wealth and the fact that her father was he mayor of Vanarapuri brought her privileges and she made sure to exploit that at every corner. She had quite the following in school and there were girls who were ready to do anything to become her friend. Silky never encouraged or discouraged them, she just let them fawn over her. Her only friends were Mini Mangabey and Bhu Baboon and had no interest in adding anyone new to her posse.
Silky tolerated Nila because she had helped with Sammy. It also helped that Nila was one of the teachers’ kid and her father was the head of city security. So, she allowed Nila to hangout with them sometimes. Mostly, silky and her friends used Nila to keep other monkeys from annoying them. Silky was more interested in meeting the exchange student, Fathi. She was supposed to be joining school that day and Silky had big plans for the new student. She would take Fathi to all the nice places in Vanarapuri, some of which was not accessible for the regular town folk. Won’t the new girl be impressed when Silky takes her to the Punk Monkeys concert as well? Silky and her posse would be even more envied and she loved the prospect of that.
Silky wore her Punk Monkeys bracelet and bandanna to school that day. She had a skip in her walk as she made her way to the classroom. Mini and Bhu were already there and were talking to a short and pudgy looking monkey. On Silky’s arrival, they waved her over with excitement.
‘Silky, come over here! Say hello to Fathi.’
The new monkey turned around and smiled. Silky’s face fell. She was not expecting Fathi to be so…plain.
‘Hello, Silky. I’m Fathi.’
Silky said the only thing that came to her mind, ‘Fatty?’
The newcomer looked shell shocked. Mini and Bhu glanced at each other and started laughing.
‘Fatty, fatty, fatty!’ they chanted.
Fathi looked at them and ran away crying. Nila, who had witnessed the entire thing happening, felt very sad for Fathi. She approached Silky who was doubled over with mirth.
‘Silky, that was not very nice! Poor girl had tears in her eyes.’
Silky waved a hand, ‘Don’t worry about that Nila darling! You see, Fathi is just not cool. She will not fit within our group, don’t you think?’
That was the first time that Silky had mentioned Nila and her group in the same sentence. Nila smiled and said, ‘I guess so!’
‘That’s the spirit. Let Fatty cry, who cares? You, on the other hand, have good potential, Nila. You can fit within our group.’
Nila beamed, ‘Really?’
‘Yes! You are my little star, Nila. My flying monkey!’
Tara noticed with growing remorse as her daughter started spending more time with Silky and her posse. While she was pleased with Suri’s friendship with Sammy, she wasn’t in the least impressed with the antics of Sammy’s elder sister. She knew that she had to have another talk with Nila soon.
Few weeks went by and Nila had become a full-fledged acolyte of Silky. She teased other monkeys and passed biting comments while Silky and her friends laughed. Fathi had withdrawn into her shell and she rarely spoke with anyone. The poor monkey looked miserable. One day, during the Physical Training period, Fathi tried her hand in swinging between bars and failed miserably. It was evident that gymnastics was not for her. The other monkeys started laughing. Silky broke into a song,
She came from foreign lands
She could crush our hands
Ate everything in her home land
Can you see your own pants?’
The monkeys around started howling with laughter. Fathi felt miserable, big drops of tears started rolling down her cheeks. She closed her eyes and wished that she had never come to Vanarapuri. Fathi hoped that the ground would open and swallow her. She was about to leave when a voice rang out sharply amidst the laughter.
‘Stop this! You are all being very cruel.’
Fathi opened her eyes and saw Nila standing next to her. She had a furious look on her face.
‘You monkeys should be very ashamed of yourselves. This is not the way to treat our fellow monkeys.’
Silky looked stunned. It was the first time that someone had dared to speak out against her, that too in front of the whole school.
‘Nila, what are you doing?’ Silky hissed with anger in her voice. ‘Know your role, flying monkey!’
Nila shook her head, ‘Silky, I’m not anyone’s flying monkey. Did you think that I wouldn’t find what a flying monkey was?’
Silky just flipped her haughtily and said, ‘You are being stupid, Nila. Don’t sidle up with uncool fatty here.’
‘Shut your mouth, Silky! I was indeed being stupid all these days, that I sidled up with you and your friends. Not anymore! Fathi demands to be treated with kindness and respect and not be shamed for the way she looks. If you can’t do that, don’t expect me to treat you any different.’
‘Don’t dare talk to me like that, you little…’
Fathi stepped up to Nila, ‘Thank you very much, Nila! But please don’t fight on my behalf. I’ve faced such unkindness all my life. That’s the reason I wanted to come to a different place and make some good friends. Unfortunately, it looks like monkeys are the same everywhere.’
Nila put her hand around Fathi’s shoulder, ‘No, Fathi! You do have at least one friend here in Vanarapuri. I’m sorry I didn’t speak up earlier. I was blind, but Silky’s song opened my eyes real wide.’
Suri and his friends came running up to Nila and Fathi, ‘Hey, we’ll be your friends too.’
Sammy quipped, ‘See, you have six friends now.’
Fathi smiled tentatively first and then started laughing. Her new friends started laughing along with her. Silky had a furious look on her face as she walked away. Tara, who had been watching the incident from her staff room, beamed with pride.