Shevchenko could not help but feel depreciated because her reasoning for enrollment was nowhere near as wholesome or pressing as the rest of her team. Though they would admit nothing out loud to her face.
She took off behind Farouk and said, “There’s no need for us to lollygag. We have to go with Maaz.”
Everyone caught up to her, and eventually with Farouk. They watched him prepare for the day by washing his face and carefully grooming himself. His servants brought him a light breakfast of cantaloupe and toast before he went on his way from the palace. He merrily skipped rocks in a small pond not too far from his home. Suddenly, he realized he had lost track of time. He made a mad dash towards the ashram where he studied. Once inside, he caught his breath.
A group of twelve girls around his age passed by, which caused him to perk up. He quick stepped behind them, but their infectious laughter from gossiping made him invisible. Suddenly, one girl became distracted and halted the formation. Farouk did not realize the girls had stopped walking, and accidentally stepped on the back of one girl’s heels. The girl wore her long black hair in pigtails braided neatly on each side, with puffs of coils at the tips.
“Ouch!” she cried.
In a panic, Farouk dropped to his knee apologetically.
“My goodness, I did not mean to harm you. Are you alright, Taqdeer?” he asked.
The group of girls rallied around the injured party and insulted Farouk. Taqdeer turned around with tears in her eyes. She was not angry, but startled. She pleaded with her friends to be kinder to Farouk, since it was clearly an accident. Then she graciously helped him to his feet.
“Thank you for showing me such mercy, Taqdeer,” he said.
She gave him a gentle smile, then said, “It is alright, Maaz. Just be certain not to follow so close behind and pay better attention to your surroundings.”
The group of girls seemed content with that being the end of the conversation. As they walked away, Farouk stiffened his body. He inhaled and exhaled sharply.
“Taqdeer,” he called out with a tremble.
The entire group of girls turned around in annoyance at him. Taqdeer hesitantly emerged from her friends. It took Farouk several minutes to recover from being tongue tied. He swayed from side to side, and his eyes were as wide as saucers. His disposition reminded the Alpha squad of how frightened he was during the entrance exam.
“Did you have something to say, Maaz?” she asked.
Farouk shut his eyes to block the view of the other girls whispering and giggling at him.
“Taqdeer,” he opened one eye. “Please have dinner with me?” he blurted out, as if he were suffering from hyperventilation.
A loud burst of laughter came from the group of girls. Other children in the quad had also stopped to gawk at the commotion. Taqdeer blushed from sheer embarrassment, but she did not laugh. In fact, she kept herself composed with an air of dignity.
“Let me think about it,” she answered calmly.
With that, she turned to her friends and walked away. Farouk stood motionless until the giant bell at the watch tower rang. Then he and the other students hastily crammed themselves inside the schoolhouse.
“let me get this straight; Mousey was all riled up this morning over a girl?” Yoshida cackled.
Shevchenko nodded her head in utter disbelief.
“Here we thought he was about to embark on this life altering mission to enroll at Calvary academy to become great, like his father,” she replied.
“Well, she was a really cute girl,” Savoi stated, hoping to save Farouk’s reputation.
“Yes, she was,” Roudan chimed in.
Yoshida had not completely stopped laughing until he saw the displeasure in Savoi’s scowl.
“Ok, Mousey picked a cutie. Unfortunately, he made a rookie mistake,” he said.
Savoi raised an eyebrow and asked, “What would that be?”
Yoshida sighed. “He should not have let her walk away without giving a proper answer to his request. Now he will spend an eternity in wait for her reply.”
Savoi mulled over Yoshida’s answer. It made sense that Farouk would probably be tormented by wondering if Taqdeer would say yes.
“This Taqdeer seems like a nice girl, certainly nicer than the rest. I hope that she would have at least given him a chance,” Savoi said, and walked with her team inside the school.
The day drifted by seamlessly. Cadet Farouk was an astute scholar in all his subjects, though this did not earn him any popularity points among his peers. During an astronomy lesson, Taqdeer sat at a desk directly in front of Farouk. She quietly turned around to pass him a small folded note. At first he did not catch on because he was so enthralled with the lecture. Taqdeer finally turned to throw the note on his desk. She launched it too hard, and the note hit him in the chest. The other students giggled at the distraction, which caused the professor to stop talking. Without a word, the professor walked up to Farouk to retrieve the note. Taqdeer sunk into her seat, worried that her message would be read aloud. The professor grimaced, then chucked the note into the rubbish bin.
At the end of class, Taqdeer turned to Farouk once more. He tensed up fretfully, but her smile calmed him.
“Maaz, thank you for your invitation to dinner. I formally accept, and look forward to our time together,” she said.
The other students giggled and laughed, but Taqdeer was sincere. Farouk froze in disbelief for a moment. The bell rang, and all the children headed out for their next class. Farouk walked through the quad in a daze when classes were over. He was so far gone that he did not hear Taqdeer, as she called out to him. His trance was broken when she snatched a piece of paper from her notebook and tossed it at his head.
“Oops! Sorry, Maaz. It was the only way I could get your attention,” she said.
Farouk picked up the wad of paper, which had fallen on the ground by then.
“Nice aim,” he chuckled, then opened the note to see if anything had been written on it.
Taqdeer rushed to retrieve the note from him.
“Oh, there is no message on this one,” she said.
The two stood in silence before she spoke again.
“I just wanted to tell you I am excited to have dinner with you.”
Farouk’s red ears matched her cheeks.
“Oh, I see,” he gushed.
Taqdeer let out a nervous giggle, then continued.
“I should also tell you that a few of my close girlfriends often accompany me on outings. It is the only way my family feels comfortable letting me go out without them.”
Farouk stood grinning, completely clueless about what she had hinted.
Taqdeer fidgeted with the coils at the end of one of her braids.
“I hope you will allow my friends to join us,” she squealed.
Farouk densely nodded yes, which prompted her to give him a quick hug. Her group of friends collected her to head home.
“Well, that turned out rather nicely,” Savoi said with a smug satisfaction aimed at Yoshida.
“Don’t gloat just yet. I have a funny feeling about Taqdeer, or at least her batch of so-called friends,” he replied.
Shevchenko drew in a deep breath and sighed.
“I don’t see what any of this has to do with Maaz’s reasoning to join the academy,” she said.
Roudan nudged her on the shoulder and whispered.
“Let’s keep digging until we find the answer.”
~The Waring Robins~