Column: Mango Friends

“Would you like to play with us?” These words were to become the earliest memory of friendship seven-year-old Chathu would remember from Australia—the first time someone had offered to be friends with her after she had begun her new life abroad.


“Would you like to play with us?”

These words were to become the earliest memory of friendship seven-year-old Chathu would remember from Australia—the first time someone had offered to be friends with her after she had begun her new life abroad. Chathu nodded shyly, a small smile on her lips the only indication of the bubbling excitement she felt inside. Someone had actually asked her to play!

During the tough weeks of adjusting to school in a new country Chathu had found it hard to communicate with her peers. Everybody was nice, but when it came to making friends, there were simply no shared topics of conversation between her and the girls in her class. They all talked about the latest Nickelodeon show they had seen, or what Loom bracelets they were making, or about the Disney themed birthday party they had attended last week. Chathu listened silently, absorbing all these titbits, and when she went home from school every day, she would ask her father to turn on Adventure Time on the TV, and beg her mother to buy her the knock-off friendship bracelet set she had seen in the window display at Target.

But she still often found herself alone at recess, sitting under the rainbow of the “Friendship Station” in the school’s playground, a painted wooden sign atop a wooden bench meant to resemble a train stop, while the other kids screamed and played tag and did cartwheels all around her.

One day, her kind Teacher noticed she had been sitting at the Friendship Station for the past week.

“Come with me,” she said, her warm hand engulfing Chathu’s as she led her in the direction of the oval. “I’ll introduce you to some lovely girls!”

The school oval was a place where Chathu rarely stepped foot. It was, she felt, a chaotic battleground: boys playing soccer and a sport called AFL that she knew was popular but had no idea about, girls sitting in friendship circles and twirling plucked flowers or doing hand-clappy games she had yet to learn, and older girls doing handstands against the chain link fence separating the oval from the tennis court, their friends cheering when they got both legs straight up. The whole space was a buzzing hive of activity, and she was more than a little apprehensive about becoming a part of the swarm. But Mrs T led her straight to the other side of the oval, where a group of thin-limbed girls were doing cartwheels and splits with vigour, their shouts of joy ringing into the air. She watched in fascination as one did a perfect cartwheel, her dress twirling around her head to reveal a pair of pink, Barbie themed boxers. Mrs T called out one of the girls’ names, and a tiny face with a pair of silken braids turned.

“I’ve got a new friend for you!” said Mrs T, holding Chathu’s hand up in hers. “She’s a lovely new student and her name is Chathu!”

Chathu shyly looked down, and when she looked up again, the blonde girl had come closer and was staring at her curiously, hands folded behind her back, the pose reminding her of the little puppies which used to run up and down her road in Sri Lanka, their curiosity and unbridled energy infectious. Up close, the girl was even prettier than Chathu’s Barbies at home, with fine silky hair and delicate features, like those of an “e-l-f” like Chathu had read about in one of her fantasy picture books (she wasn’t quite sure how to pronounce the odd-looking word).

The girl came closer and extended her hand to Chathu.

“Would you like to play with us?”


Chathu would find out later that the name of the girl looking at her with open, friendly eyes was Miki. Miki would introduce Chathu to all her friends: shiny-brown-hair Lucy who liked horses, twin-sister-in-another-class Mary and long-long-Rapunzel-hair Freya. They would spend the rest of this lunch playing this new game called “Policeman Sam,” a dizzying pattern of clapping hands and shoulders that Chathu would just barely memorise by the time the bell rang.

The laughter of the girls, coupled with all their honest questions about her, would make Chathu feel warm and giddy inside. By the time she went home, she would feel like a soda bottle about to pop. She would chat to her Amma about the new friends she had made over her meal of basmati rice and parippu (dhal curry) and, as she went to sleep that night, tucked into her pink princess duvet, she would dream about playing with the girls the next day, and see herself smiling and laughing with them again, doing a perfect cartwheel on the grass.

Over the months following this day, a routine would develop that Chathu would come to treasure dearly. When she was dropped off at the gates near the school church, Miki would be waiting, her pigtails swinging around her face as she gave her a big smile. Chathu would smile back, and they would launch into a conversation about which stickers they would use in their arts and crafts class that day, or about which fairy was their favourite from the Rainbow Magic series. Then they would say goodbye, promising to meet again at lunch, when they would always run towards the far side of the oval and practice their handstands and cartwheels together with the other girls.

But Chathu wasn’t to know any of this just yet. The girl stood expectant, waiting for her reply.


Chathu grabbed the girl’s hand and was instantly pulled towards her group of friends. As they ran, hand in hand, grass whizzing by beneath her feet and the laughter of children a ringing melody in her ears, Chathu felt they were going to be the best of friends, and she was reminded of the term “mango friends”: friends that were colourful in spirit and sweet on the inside, constant companions through rain and shine.

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