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Last evening, I had been contemplating writing a commentary on friendship and I saw two ladies walking briskly towards each other in black velvet overcoats. As I came within earshot, they were hugging and rocking one another vigorously. I waited for their joyous greeting to end and asked, “ Are you best friends?” They broke free of their embrace and turned towards me. It was the beautiful Stephanie Walker and her friend. I burst out laughing at the serendipity of the process. Stephanie is well known in the Alabama arts community as a children’s author and currently works at WLRH where this commentary could air! My thoughts had found these friends and I could already envision them as the opening act of my story. 

“Do you have one?,” Stephanie asked me. “What, a story?,” I responded. Stephanie shook her head, “No… a best friend?” I winked and said, “Well, for that you will have to read my story”.

I reached the restaurant I was heading to, musing about my eight year old grandson, Ayush, in Jaipur; He often talks about a classmate, maybe Noel or Anshuman, as his in-today-out-tomorrow best friend. Together they share a bench in class, participate in frivolous boyish acts like rolling pencils, singing slightly off-key, having lunch, and maybe inviting each other to birthdays. For the past few days Ayush has been sitting alone. I want to fly over, be his friend in class, and share gossip with him at lunch. I guess friendships at that age are less stable. Your table mate can be your best friend and when your seats change, so does your friendship.

Back in Huntsville,Alabama, I sipped my cucumber martini alone and I found myself surrounded by groups of friends, some celebrating birthdays, others meeting for dinner. I remember my kindergarten days, there was no dearth of friends then. The green-eyed monster had not reared her ugly head!  We hugged, tumbled, twirled and hugged some more. Life was all play. In middle school, my best friend was Shiwani, or as I liked to call her, Juju. We climbed mango trees and got into scrapes together. By high school I had moved on and become close friends with Ganga and Mukta. Together we were known as the “Three Musketeers” and we were inseparable. We did homework together, shared food during intermission, talked about our first crushes, laughed  over classroom drama, and made concrete plans on living in the same city once we were older . We are still close though we all currently live in different countries. Perhaps one day we will be together…

I have met wonderful, talented people in the Tennessee valley. I know artists, poets, engineers, nurses, doctors, researchers, bankers, librarians, journalists, musicians, herbalists and I share their virtuous company with joy. But the naked truth is that, although I wear my heart on my sleeve, I do not have someone I consider a friend. I have to confess that I don’t relish the “so-so” company of women in cliques . They dress to match, carry designer purses, have perfected their eye rolls and dissolve in mirth together at those who are in a pickle. They have no qualms about whispering under bated breath like pepper merchants in Thailand. Their makeup is flawless, as though their faces were hand dipped in porcelain, but when no one is watching their features settle into a shapeless gelatin mass that shudders with every breath. I try a joke or two to break the ice but their responses often set my teeth on edge. 

So I seek my redemption in my place of worship: a bookstore. Viola! As soon as I pick up a new book, the world is my oyster again. I immerse myself in the lyrical prose of Towles, Doerr, Patchett, Dalai Lama, Tolstoy, Tagore, Twain, and Shakespeare. As I sink into the arms of a comfortable well used sofa, I realize that I have come full circle to my true best friends. They don’t mock my Boheme mismatched socks. They could care less. All ennui vanishes into thin air and I am in their heart of hearts. All of them take turns in sharing their life lessons with an urgent candor. Suddenly I have uncovered the light I could not see. My trepidations vanish into thin air and I am surrounded by my familiar best friends with hearts of gold. All’s well that ends well. What do you say William?

Oh little Ayush, you will settle down into the social norms of being in school. Being an only child, I know you hanker for a regular companion but you are a resilient young man. You read stories of Pinocchio and Red Riding Hood to me on FaceTime and I feel we are the same. So I’m not worried. I hope you find someone who will enjoy reading stories with you, till then you can find new friends in books.

With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. Monita has published two books, My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart

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