I remember meeting Sheila very clearly – or at least I think I do. It was the first day of school at Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge. I was 16 going on 17 and my family had just moved to England from Quebec, Canada so were all trying hard to settle into our new life. I didn’t know what to wear to my first day at school, so I followed a rule that I have had much trouble shedding over the years – when in doubt, overdress! I was very into burgundy at that time, so I wore a full burgundy skirt with burgundy tights and 3-inch pumps, a white frilly blouse and a burgundy v-neck vest over the blouse. I am not sure what look I was going for but no one else was dressed anything like this at Hills Road that day.
Fortunately, my horrible fashion sense didn’t stop me from making a lovely friend on that first day. I remember spotting a very pretty Indian-looking girl at break or lunchtime. She was sitting on her own. She was wearing a turquoise corduroy skirt, long cream sweater and black Proto-Ugg boots – a vision of cool and casual. Perhaps because she was another brown girl in a school of mostly white kids, we soon found ourselves sitting together and chatting. She was Gujarati, had grown up in Cambridge and had an accent that seemed to me a little Cockney after several years of living in Canada. I really liked her bubbly, warm energy and we soon became good friends. For the two years that we attended this school, we were very close, spending time with each other at school and with each other’s families. Much of the time there, I was in awe of Sheila’s natural beauty, the way her thick, dark hair always looked full and perfect, and the way her cute little nose crinkled when she laughed. My nose was never cute or little, and it never crinkled!
When Sixth Form ended, we started to go separate ways to colleges in different cities. Then I ended up in Japan, and Sheila began working in London for the British government helping low-income families and children. We have sadly seen very little of each other as adults, but shared a few hours together on one of our recent visits to London and met each other’s families. She has three children, all of them older than our son Theo, and is still a beautiful woman with great hair and that cute nose! Because our friendship is mostly conducted via Facebook these days, I am not sure what her style is these days, but from the photos she has posted, I can tell that, while I now favor black over any color (and especially burgundy!), she may well be more colorful and fancy than I am now! Today, I sent her a slightly fancy ring today that I bought a couple of years ago but rarely wear, and I’m hoping that she will enjoy it. I also hope this year is ending strongly for my dear friend of over 30 years, and that the New Year will bring her many things to crinkle her nose about.