Shibani and I met the last week of 5th grade. Within 5 days of our first encounter, school was over and we were both off to separate summer vacations. The first day of 6th grade, I spotted Shibani in my classroom, and we smiled. Miss O'Cleary, our teacher, had designed a seating chart for all of us 6th graders; she sat us in a cluster of four desks turned inward. Shibani and I were lucky that day - we were the two girls in our cluster.
Shibani's parent were of the upper class of India's population. Shibi's mom worked for the U.S. Embassy - she was some kind of attache to an attache to the US Ambassador. Shibi's dad was something, but it was her mom who had a presence in Shibi's life. Shibi was a serious science kind of whiz who spoke English with a clipped British accent. Her first language, of course, was Hindi.
Shibani was my best friend during each school year. But during the summers, we never saw or heard from each other. She went to wherever her home was, I went to whatever direction my parents pointed me. Come the first day of school... Shibani and I would find each other and our conversations would begin anew.
In 8th grade, our whole class participated in a Learning Fair on the last day of school. Shibi and I were in the "Learning English" class of the fair. We each had to read a book of our choice, prepare a booth that reflected or advertised our book, and then 'man' our booth and answer questions about our book (if anyone bothered to ask). Shibi immediately picked "The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher" by Lewis Thomas. No one doubted that was a perfect pick for Shibi. My own library was full of Leon Uris books, but our teacher thought that "Mila 18" was a bit out of our league. I settled on" The Diary of Anne Frank".
Shibi and I worked on our posters together. We practiced our book 'previews' out loud to each other, and together we collected visual aides for our displays. Shibi found a child's microscope, some slides, a petri dish, tweezers, and some stinky cotton balls. She built a scientist's paradise in her little booth. I was envious. My little booth had a blank diary and a pen... and poster that mistakenly advertised "The Dairy of Anne Frank".
The Learning Fair started that last Thursday at 10 a.m. Teachers brought their students to our room, and we invited them into our booths to listen to our spiel. A few parents even attended the Fair, but neither Shibani nor I had mothers who attended.
When the day ended, Shibani's microscope and slides were fingered, smeared and messy. My 'dairy' sign still reflected its err in spelling (I just knew I should have reported on Mila-18!). We packed up our booths, threw away our posters, and waved a 'see you in August!' goodbye.
Within a week, my family moved. And Shibani? She never went back to that school either. Turns out the US Embassy took over the school. They converted "our" school to an 'embassy' school - only American embassy children or American children of U.S. Foundations or religious organizations were allowed to attend. Shibani wasn't American. She was not allowed back in. I was American, but my dad didn't work for the right 'company'. I wouldn't have been allowed back in, either. (My mother assures me that I would have attended a highly rated international boarding school in Kuala Lumpur.)
I wonder where Shibani went. I hope she is a doctor or mad lab scientist in Switzerland or Australia. I hope her education didn't end after 8th grade. I hope she is strong. And I hope she knows I still think of her.
(The above photo was taken during 8th grade. I never got a yearbook that year, but I did find that the Embassy School website has posted all our yearbooks online. I hunted for Shibani's photo - and found her. But she isn't in the 9th grade yearbook, or the 10th... or the 11th... I'd like to think someday I will find the real her.)