The news about Thursday’s events and Jane’s strange ears seemed to have spread like wildfire. When Ni stepped inside the school ground that morning, everybody, from the kids of lower grades to the teachers seemed to be watching her. Once in the classroom, she heard lots of whispering behind her back. It didn’t take long for Ni to realize that she had become a kind of heroine to everyone. Although not a single word was said to Nirupa to blame her for what had happened to Jane, it was obvious that everyone at school, including the teachers themselves, were convinced that she was responsible. The headmistress threw angry glances at Ni but said nothing to her. She did move Ni from her desk on the middle row to the last seat on the corner row as far as she could put her from Jane’s desk. While she and Melissa were moving their schoolbags to the newly assigned seats, Nirupa saw Sarah watching with smiling eyes. Even those who had never spoken to her before yesterday, tried to get her attention. Judy asked Ni to lend her pencil sharpener to her. She didn’t it. She just wanted to talk to Nirupa, which made Ni smile.
Within a single day, she’d become a Goddess. Everyone wanted to be her friend. as if she wasn’t the same girl they had mocked till yesterday. What happened to Jane had filled the kids with fear, but it had also increased their respect for Ni.
All day long Ni enjoyed her new popularity.
Ni was sure Dara would be upset if she knew she’d sent Ellis to buy her lemonade during the break, being too lazy to go downstairs herself. Even worse, she’d chosen Ellis from among twelve kids who had volunteered to buy her lemonade. Deep down Ni knew she shouldn’t act this way, but she really liked the feeling of power. Maybe she’d do this just a little longer.
Jane came to school that afternoon in her father’s official vehicle. Two bodyguards escorted her, though they waited in the vehicle. The effect of the spell had completely disappeared, and along with it, Jane’s arrogance had vanished too. She took her seat in silence. At first the kids laughed behind her back, but then they forgot about her and turned their attention to Nirupa again.
During lunch break, Nirupa and Melissa found themselves surrounded by an admiring group of kids.
"Hey, look! Jane is coming out," one of the boys called out. "
Nirupa watched as Jane and Violet set down on a free bench without talking to anyone.
"Jane! Jane! Those rabbit ears matched you so well," Ryan yelled out. Everyone laughed.
Jane turned her head toward them, but lowered it immediately and gave no response.
"Even the piggy’s nose wasn't so bad," one of the girls, called out. Ni recognized Claire's voice. She turned around and saw Claire hiding behind chubby Luis. "Claire was Jane's good friend till yesterday," Ni thought as she felt a rush of anger towards Claire.
This time, Jane fixed all of them with her gaze. At first she looked furious, about to swear, but all of a sudden she burst into tears and ran towards the school building. Violet followed her and they both disappeared inside.
Ni was furious. This time not at Jane but at all the other kids laughing at Jane. At that moment Ni realized she didn’t want this kind of worship. Jane, who until then was the queen of those that obeyed her like slaves, had now become their laughing stock. Ni looked over at Melissa, who also looked furious. "Claire, why don’t you tell Jane right to her face that she looks ridiculous?" Nirupa snapped. Claire looked stunned,
"And the rest of you," Ni went on, "you find it so easy to switch your opinions and your friends overnight. Did someone force you to adore Jane before?"
"Jane is finished," a boy’s voice spoke. "And the arrogant brat deserved it.
"Then go on, despise me too. Treat me as you have always done. I’m still the same person. I haven’t changed a bit since yesterday." Nirupa turned her back and went upstairs to her classroom. After that little incident no one dared to come close to her for fear of being brushed off. But Ni didn’t care. Melissa was the only friend she really wanted. She knew now false behavior and lack of character were the two human weaknesses she hated, and Melissa agreed.
That afternoon when Nirupa got home from school, she found Dara sitting at the kitchen table, her face buried in her hands. "Mom, what are you doing home so early?" Dara didn’t answer.
"Mom!" Ni said again.
Dara raised her head and Ni saw her red eyes and blotchy cheeks. Her mother had been crying.
"What’s wrong?" Ni ran to hug her mother.
"They laid me off." Dara blew her nose in a paper napkin from the large pack on the table.
"They fired you?" Ni repeated shocked. "Why?"
Dara took another paper napkin from the pack.
"They told me the University no longer has funds to pay for my salary. They are forced to close my department for an undetermined period," she said. "The dean told me it’s only temporary, but that’s a big fat lie, Nirupa. I know something else stands behind this."
"Jane’s father…,"Ni stammered.
Dara nodded. "Not only has he ordered my dismissal from my job, he’s also taken measures to keep me from finding any other job in this city. My goodness what will I do?" She began to cry again.
Nirupa was worried to death. "I’ll call Lisa." She ran to the phone.
An hour later, Dara, Lisa and Mrs. Marianne, who had happened to stop by sat around the large oak table. Nirupa sat with Melissa on the sofa watching, and hoping these two friends could help her mother figure out what to do.
"This is mean and shameless," Lisa said. "How stupid of them to take a kid’s trick so seriously!"
"It’s more than that!" Marianne said. "Jane’s father believes he is almighty. He has to have power over every situation."
"Be that as it may, I must find a job, or we'll be broke. Dara said burying her face on her hands.
Nirupa was feeling awful. She felt so guilty for the trick she played on Jane. "It's all my fault," She thought. "How can I undo what I did?"
"What about the languages you know?" Ni heard Lisa asking. "You could teach French or Spanish or even German."
"That’s a good idea." Dara brightened for a moment, then frowned. "But bad news flies at the speed of light in this small town. If Jane’s father has the power you say, who will employ me as a teacher?"
"You do have one way out," Marianne spoke softly.
All turned their heads toward her.
Ni brightened for a second. Maybe Melissa's grandmother had the right solution. She watched her curiously to know of what she would say.
"Dara, you will have to accept your deceased husband’s will."
Dara jumped as though a flailing whip had struck her.
"We would have to go and live in Spain? She said. "Don’t even think about it!"
"You have no other choice," Lisa said. "The danger is over now. And I will come with you.” "No, I will never do this, Lisa. I will call the International Association of Archaeologists. Because of my extensive experience, they will surely assign me to some team somewhere."
Nirupa watched, feeling upset, as Dara spent the rest of the afternoon and the succeeding day making hundreds of calls. By the end of the day, it was clear even to Dara that the Mayor had absolute power in this town, and even with the Association of Archaeologists. There was no other way out but to travel to Spain. During an abrupt meeting with Lisa, they decided they would leave in three months. And just like that, Nirupa’s life changed completely.
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