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The one who always smiled.

As the years went by, I was identified as a bitter kid. And I was. I cribbed, yelled, threw sass like the salt bae. And then, I would be yelled back, with Muskaan's name and behaviour woven in between the insults.


Muskaan was our neighbour's daughter. Girl next door, she was everything my parents wanted their daughter to be. It made me resent her in the start, but as we moved away from strangers to a polite acquaintance, I realized that's how she really was. Her behaviour was innate and not something imposed on. And it utterly fascinated me. She never broke any rules - spoken and unspoken - of her household. She never made herself a makeup addict; just a lipgloss, that made her even more radiant.


She was true to her name; she smiled, always.


It was after a while that I was starting to wonder about her mental health. She looked so happy, so enthusiastic, that it was impossible to imagine her crying on anything. I decided to put her mystery at the back of my mind. Her life, just like her behaviour, was inviting and open. Except for her regular absence in the evenings, there was nothing that I didn't know about her. It was a conundrum, but honestly, I thought, where will she go, if not nearby? She never strayed out of her boundaries.


Once, as I was out, venturing in an unexplored part of my town, I stumbled onto a park. It was, in a way, hidden and peaceful. I parked my bike and steered inside, walking along the path. No one was in the park, except for the stray dogs; it was 8 PM. And then, I saw Muskaan, sitting on one of the benches sheltered in the dark. I cautiously stepped forward, careful not to let her see me.


She was crying.


And it was that crying that chilled me to my soul. Her shoulders drooped as if she was carrying a real heavy burden. Her eyes were bloodshot as if she was crying since forever. Since she never used to makeup, there were no dramatic black, smudged eyes, and I realized her real motive of not using any cosmetics. The tears fell on her cheeks in succession, but she never made a sound. She just sat there, and let them run their course.


And it was immensely unsettling. It was as if she was hurrying to complete one unfinished task, that of crying bitterly so that she can go back home as soon as possible. She never strayed out of her boundaries, anyway.


I backed out silently, and started my bike, fighting my own tears on the way. I didn't want to know how Muskaan was handling life; her sad little moment told me volumes. Her absence every day took a whole different meaning; cleared my mystery.


And it was a mystery whose result I didn't like.


Next morning dawned bright and early, and I passed Muskaan on the stairs. She was her bright happy self again as if yesterday didn't happen. Only the imperceptible red in her eyes indicated her evening venture, and my heart went out to her.


Just the way it went out to her, after four years when her family wailed on their dear and perfect daughter's sudden suicide.


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