Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Tale Of Two Friends

I knew as soon as I laid eyes on him that he wasnt going to be spending the 8-count flat on his back, panting and in pain, while the school-bully hovered over him.
I've always been a supporter of the underdog. That's why I could never gamble on sport.
I guess it comes from having been an underdog for most of my life. We tend to seek each other out, finding solace in the company of those society has written off as outsiders.

There he stood, with his hand-me-down school uniform, his tattered yet polished black shoes, his oversized white shirt threadbare from years of being handwashed, and the poor mans signature haircut: A crewcut front to back like they give to prisoners.
The glint in his eye told me this boy had fire burning inside of him. A fire born of passion and determination. A fire that no mortal could douse. A fire I recognised as having been burning inside of me for more years than I cared to remember.

He'd been beaten down twice by the time I got to the school parking lot.
I had'nt intended to stop and watch, but being a hot Friday afternoon and the long trudge home looming large before me, I figured some weekend entertainment starting this soon would be a welcome change.
Kelvin always chose the parking lot as the venue for his bouts of bravado. The prettiest girls seemed to arrive and depart by car, and what better place to have his ego inflated and his showmanship displayed than the parking lot.
Nobody ever knew what criteria he used to choose his Friday victim, but there were always two certainties.
No Friday would pass without a fight.
No fight would end until Kelvin was summoned to Principal Mashers office.

Shaff was the new kid on the block. Maybe that's why he was picked out on the day.
Maybe it was that he looked hopeless and alone.
Maybe it was that Kelvin sensed an outsider.
Whatever the reason, nobody in the parking lot on that hot Friday afternoon expected Shaff to get up after hitting the tarmac for the second time.
I did.
I knew this kid had fight in him.
I knew that quitting and being beaten wasnt an option for him.
I knew that it was more than pride at stake here; he was fighting the good fight for every underdog that ever set foot in Model Primary School.
Grade 7 can be such a tough place for an unpopular kid.

Years later he would ask me what inspired me to drop my bag and help him beat the snot out of Kelvin.
My answer was a simple smile. A knowing smile. One he knew never needed words to define it.

We'd been friends ever since.
The kind that would drift apart for months, and then suddenly collide into each others lives like rainfall on a golfing sunday. Very much welcome, and causing no change or deviation to the days plan.
We'd chat once a month, sometimes less, sometimes more often, but never lose touch with the other.
Neither of us were afforded the opportunity of a tertiary education; a luxury always relegated to insignificance when the urgent need to earn a living is ever present.
We chose instead to go into business at the first opportunity.
Shaff joined his uncle in the family butchery; I joined my grandad in the family supermarket.

Ten years later, with the fires of passion and determination raging like a violent volcano within us both, and having graduated to heading our own rather successful business's, we decided to travel to London to further our interests
Shaff had never been on a plane before.
His sister however, worked for British Airways.
The day we left can best be compared to a kids first day at school, when his folks see him off as he nervously embarks on a new chapter in his life.
Shaff had his entire family at the airport.
He came prepared, down to the lunchbox with his sandwiches and snacks neatly packed inside.
He flew First Class, a gift from his sister.
I flew economy.
But he spent the entire flight constantly visiting me in my tiny hovel to share with utter glee the joys of First Class Travel.
He was like a kid in a candy store, literally.
It was only when his prawn cocktail starter was served that he finally accepted this to be the way the rich travelled.

We spent many afternoons in his pizza shop, one of many business's he owned by then, chatting about everything and nothing. Most of it involved plans to take over the world.
Two years ago, we discussed starting our own charity organisation.
He left for India not long afterward,and I had just moved back from Dubai.

I called him 3 weeks ago to invite him over to my new home, and tell him about my latest money-making idea.
He never answered my call, and I left a message on his answering machine telling him I never believed the day would come when we would be too busy to take each others calls.
He never did return my call.
I guess I was too busy to try calling him again. Besides, thats the kind of friends we were. I figured we'd make contact again sooner or later.

Little did I realise it would neither be sooner, nor later.
Shaff passed away in a motorcycle accident 2 days before I had called him.
He couldnt answer my call.
He never will, ever again.

I'd love to tell you what an amazing soul he was; how enriched I feel for having met him and known him.
I'd love to look him in the eyes one last time, just to thank him for being my truest friend.
I'd love to sit him down, and answer the question he always asked.
Why did I drop my bag that day and save him from Kelvin?
Shaff, that day, it was you saving me, friend.
It was the day you made me believe we could overcome, and we did.

I know youre looking down on me right now and laughing that hearty laugh of yours.
I know youre shaking your head at the tears streaming down my face as I write this.
But do you know how much I miss you?

We'll meet again some day.
I'll keep fighting the good fight, knowing youre right beside me, spurring me on.

Take care old friend.
Your spirit lives on.

Shaff & I outside Equinox, London