Friendship: (n), the capacity to unite harmoniously; a state of mutual trust and support.
My friend runs her long fingers through my hair, smoothly gathering sections for a French braid. The University of Toronto is a nine-hour drive away, so I haven’t seen her since August. As she pauses to search for a ribbon, I close my eyes, waiting for the last tug I first felt in ninth grade, the pull I was homesick in my earliest weeks of college. She lingers, however, before finishing my braid, and I am sure of what will follow.
“This one doesn’t matter to you?”
“Not even a little.”
I tilt my phone towards her. I have memorized this routine, but still I watch as she opens Instagram, typing in his name. She finds his oldest picture, and without blinking, double taps the heart. My face burns, but I bite my lip, knowing the moment will pass. She gently smooths back my hair, her fingers arranging loose strands. Looping a ribbon around the end, she tugs it tight.
This is our twisted test; a shallow, millennial tradition started in high school. It’s supposed to cut through the pretenses, to demand truth from hollow words. We had seen our friends craft enviable narratives out of half-truths while living through painful reality, vowing to never to let such a thing happen to us. In testing each other again and again, we are protecting ourselves, we tell each other. In our world, there is no room for alternative truths.
Sensemaya is playing at Terrace, and the stairway is flooded with bodies. It’s one of the more popular student bands, and its fusion of Yoruba, highlife, and jazz is a long standing favorite. I link hands with a girl I came with, but soon lose her in the crush. A tall sophomore jammed against the bannister next to me offers me a cigarette. One of his eyes is bottle green, the other is dark blue. Maybe the smoke is getting to me, or I have forgotten that genetic anomalies exist. Either way, his question is my cue to leave.
As I collapse on my bed, unwrapping a chocolate-layered granola bar, my phone buzzes. A recent friend, one I met last year, yells above the music. Startled, I take a few seconds to recognize her voice. She tells me that she and her boyfriend have been searching the club for two hours trying to find me. I laugh giddily, hysterically.
“Come back,” she urges.
It is 3 am, the temperature is near zero degrees, and I am up four flights of stairs. Brown, for everyone’s information, does not have an elevator. I discover that if you jog, though, you can be on the street in less than a minute. She and her boyfriend are waiting in the corner of the dance floor, and I am breathless as I collide with her. She kisses my cheek and laughs, wrapping her arms around my waist. Maybe it’s the adrenaline, or the relief of seeing her, but as we dance next to the speakers, heat spreads through my body. A boy behind me bumps into me one too many times, smiling when I turn to look at him. I smile back, hugging my friend tighter. “I’m taken,” I yell. He couldn’t have heard me, but still retreats into the crowd. Shifting closer to the front, I press my hand into hers. Cheering shakes the floor, and the band returns for its encore.
My roommate rolls over on the top bunk, letting her hand fall over the side. This is the first year we haven’t had daily Hindi class together, but it’s also the first year we’re sharing a I reach my hand up, stretching until our fingers are linked. We have both had a hard week, for reasons neither of us fully know. Her palm is warm against mine, and just as I’m falling asleep, she squeezes gently. In the morning, my hand is curled underneath my cheek. I look up to find her arm lowered, her hand still reaching towards mine.