I waited two months after my friend Amy died before I unwrapped the doll that I'd got for her. She was now my most beautiful doll; black hair and big eyes that reflected the world with a shine. The doll had been on display in the big, new toy store that had opened up directly opposite our school. Every evening, during school days, I and Amy had stared at the doll in the display window on our way home. We both wanted her. But there was no doubt who she belonged to. She looked like Amy. I sat down in the middle of my room and I cradled the doll to my heart. But she felt cold and uncomfortable against my body, like a new ring on your finger. And I didn't want to get used to it the way you do. I had been jealous at first but now I wished there was some way to give the doll to Amy. When I bought it for her, I had thought Amy was going to survive.
I turned around to see my mom at the door. She was leaning against it, running one foot along the shag carpeting in my room and looking at me nervously. I wished she hadn't seen me hugging the doll. She would now try to talk to me again. I could see it on her face.
"Mona?" she said.
I sighed and kept the doll down.
"Darling what are you doing?"
I didn't know what to say. She looked at the doll.
"Is that the doll you got for Amy?"
My mom stood staring at me. She tugged at a strand of her hair the way she does when she is anxious. I wanted her to leave.
"I am going to go for a walk with the doll," I said.
She seemed surprised and relieved at the same time.
She walked me to the door and watched me put on my shoes. Before I left she cupped my face with both hands.
"You take care, okay?"
I nodded. She kissed me on the forehead. Then I opened the door and walked out into the neighbourhood. My mom waved to me and then, after a moment, closed the door. I felt her gaze disappear from my back and felt relieved. The sky was blue but cloudy and there was a watery sun.
I was making the familiar walk to Amy's house. I held the doll to me by her waist as I walked. I needed to get rid of her. But I couldn't just throw her away though there were a couple of garbage cans along the pavement.
On reaching Amy's house, I rang the bell and waited on the doorstep. A few moments later Amy's mom opened the door. She looked like Amy, like the doll, but stretched out and curvier and her skin was worn and shiny, like plastic.
"Hi Mona," she said looking down at me.
"Hello, Mrs Bender." I held up the doll. "I came to give this to you."
She stared at it for a moment. She bit her lips, which were already raw and then she nodded and moved aside to let me in.
I sat on a sofa in the hall with a cup of orange juice in my hand. The doll was on my lap. I felt strange. Usually I and Amy would immediately go to her room. Mrs Bender was sitting across from me sipping from a cup of tea. There was a silence in the room that was all the quieter because it felt like it would be broken at any moment.
I realised with a sinking heart that I had got myself into another talk.
Sure enough: "How are you Mona?"
"I'm fine, thank you for asking Mrs Bender," I said.
"She was your best friend, wasn't she?"
I nodded and sipped my O.J.
Mrs Bender bit her lip and her nose grew red and moist. She shook her head and took a deep breath.
"I am sorry Mona," she said and smiled tiredly. "I am no good."
I didn't know what to say so I looked down at the doll on my lap and mumbled that it was ok.
"Oh and thank you for the doll. It's lovely," she said.
I don't know why I asked it.
"Can I put it in her room?"
Mrs Bender looked like I had slapped her. She stuttered: "I-I am sorry Mona. Amy's room…We just gave most of her things away to…Its empty…"
She stared down at the floor.
"Oh that's okay. No problem," I said. She looked so ashamed I felt like a bully. I felt the need to reassure her.
She nodded. Then she looked at the doll on my lap and smiled.
"It looks a lot like her."
She reached out and I gave the doll to her.
She placed the doll on her lap and, as she looked at her, the smile on her face faded a little. I hoped she wouldn't give her back to me. Mrs Bender stood up and looked around the room. She walked up to and placed the doll on the mantelpiece. She stood back and regarded her. She then shook her head and looked at me smiling sadly and almost as if she were ashamed.
"I'm sorry Mona. But I can't…"
I looked down at my shoes.
She then picked up the doll from the mantelpiece and sat back down on the sofa. She fiddled with the doll and stared at her for a while.
Then she looked up. "Mona…I wonder…would you feel awfully insulted if I gave the doll away to a charity?"
"No," I said, taking care not to show too much enthusiasm.
"I think that's a good idea."
She looked at me uncertainly then and said.
"Will you come with me to the charity? I need somebody with me."
I couldn't say no.
"I have to be home in time for lunch," I said.
She smiled. "Oh it's okay. It's not a long ride. I would ask Edward to drive me only he is usually pretty tired when he gets home from work."
We had to take the bus to the city. We sat right at the back, the doll sitting between us. We sat in silence for a while. I looked out the window as the suburban houses gave way to scrubland.
Sometime later Mrs Bender asked me a few questions about school. I had just started the seventh grade so I told her a little about that. She laughed slightly over something I said.
Then she asked me
"Mona, when did you realise that Amy died?"
"What?" I asked.
"When they told me about Amy's death, I didn't feel anything that day or for a few days after. One day I woke up in my bed thinking that I have to go wake Amy up for school. But then I realised I didn't have to wake her up. That she wasn't in her room or in her bed. I thought about her neat and empty bed. And then I realised that Amy was dead and I turned over and bit my pillow and screamed and screamed against it and started crying. That was how it was for me…What about you?"
Mrs Bender's eyes shined brightly and she looked eagerly at me. I didn't know what she was talking about and I felt frightened.
"I-I'm not sure," I said.
"Oh…" She looked disappointed. Then she bit her lip and laughed quietly.
"Look at me, I'm a mess," she said. "I'm sorry Mona, I got carried away."
"It's okay," I said, though it wasn't. Not really.
The buildings were taller now and the streets had lots of cars. We were in the city.
"It's this stop," said Mrs Bender, standing up.
The bus door hissed open and we got down. We had walked for a minute before we realised that we had left the doll in the bus. We looked at each other and then Mrs Bender started laughing.
"What a couple of sillies we are!"
I looked into the distance were I could still see the bus on the road. I imagined the doll riding on that bus forever, getting farther and farther away with each day. Lost completely. Mrs Bender continued laughing next to me and, very, very quietly, I started screaming inside my head.
Faisal Pakkali is an Indian resident of Dubai. He is twenty years old. He studies accountancy and writes in his spare time. He has previously been published in ThickJam, Pantheon, Everydayfiction and the Missing Slate. He loves to read Alice Munro, Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Carver, Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury.