We call her Maghi, for the name given to her, Margaret Mary, seems a bit heavy for this shy yet full-of-life-prankster. She has become a grandma now. I hope that in this new role in her life, she gets to reclaim some of her childhood, done a bit differently now. She grew up in the orphanage attached to my K-12 school, an all girls convent founded and run by Italian missionaries of the Franciscan order. It is located a short walk away from the busy New Delhi Railway station, where on any given day, then and now, one can see hundreds of street kids sleeping rough and begging for food. She was amongst the lucky ones to have found a sanctuary behind the protective walls of the school, because being as fair and good looking as she was(is), the outside male and hunger dominated world would not have been safe for her.

We became friends in elementary school, both being equally uninterested in being ‘educated’. I was effortlessly top of the class and she usually brought up the bottom, as far as formal report cards were concerned. But kids don’t care about report cards. We bonded over our instinct for mischief-making and self appointed mission to make our lives fun. My mother had persuaded Mother ji, the school principal, founder and mother superior, to let me stay back in school for an extra 3 hours, after school ended, until my mother’s workday ended. They both understood that as an only child of a working single mother, going home to be a latchkey kid was not a safe option for me. Single moms are still rare in India and babysitting is not a thing. That is how I became the only day scholar in the school to ever have so much time with the ‘hostel’ girls who permanently lived on campus. I got to eat with them in the large dining hall, go to the box room — where each girl had her box of personal belongings, attend church, play, and join in the chores assigned to the older girls to help the resident working nuns on various duties from kitchen, laundry to bathing the younger ones.

Maghi and I always hung out together like inseparable twins. She showed me her new glow-in-the-dark rosary in a darkened corner of the box room with several other girls crowding around her cupped hands to create the necessary dark, and taking turns to peep inside to see it glow. She envied my good luck charms, a collection of small cards used as book marks, with images of various Hindu gods, Saraswati — the goddess of learning, Laxmi — the goddess of wealth, etc. We trusted each other enough to trade these treasures. She let me take the rosary home so I could really see it glow at night. I let her keep the Hindu god bookmarks to improve her grades in the report card, that the annoying adults seemed to care so much about. I visited the chapel on exam days, to pray for easy passage. Over time, Mother ji trusted my mother enough to make the rare exception to let Maghi come home for a sleepover on special occasions. Maghi’s longing to see and experience the world outside the imprisonment of the regimented routines inside the school walls was so palpable that I came to appreciate my own freedoms better, and not take them for granted. While the rest of the world may have pitied me for being a child growing up without a father in the home, Maghi only had crystal clear envy that I actually had a mother and a home. All she knew of her birth history was that she was likely to have been an Anglo-Indian likely born to an Indian mother and a British father, neither of whom could be there to raise her. Unknown to both of us kids, she probably liberated me to choose whether I wanted to go through life with a glass half/empty or a half-full attitude. When strangers who met us mistook us to be sisters, we rejoiced in the feeling, and hope that not all adults are idiots.

I was the first one to hear about the young man who fancied her at the Sunday church services. His parents would pay for my first ever professionally tailored baby pink silk dress (my mother tailored the rest) as I was obviously the bridesmaid and the one who signed the register at the church altar when they finally married. She went on to become a well loved elementary school teacher at the other branch of our school, in Hauz Khas, as I took my adventures global.

We rarely get a chance to meet, as the distance and different lives preoccupy us. In 2012, when I spent extended time in Delhi, she came for a sleepover at my temporary home — an executive hostel with meals served in a large dining room on campus. She remembered to bring the photo album of the 25th wedding anniversary celebrations that her two adult boys had organized for their parents, at the same school church, with the hostel girls, old and new, and family and friends. She knew I would have liked to be a part that celebration. Four years ago when my mother moved to India and we stopped in Delhi, she came to see her Aunty & me, making half a dozen friends she had prior plans with, take a detour and wait, just for the few minutes we could steal. We may not meet or talk, but our bond runs deep, so when we do meet, it’s a silent life affirming private celebration. No words, no life stories, nothing else matters, other than knowing that we both feel each other in a way that being together is like an answered prayer.