Friends Fornever

“I thought I lost you somewhere, but you were never really ever there at all.”

– Here Is Gone, Goo Goo Dolls

Vendredi, 30 août  2013: 

In the twenty-one years I have existed on this planet, I have lived in four continents, seven countries, eleven cities, attended eight schools and two universities, and forged numerous friendships with kids from many corners of the globe. These friendships were always passionate and intense for that moment but few have lasted to this day. Before we move somewhere new I’d always known, deep down in my heart, that this, friends, is the end of our friendship as we know it today. Nevertheless, let us shake hands and embrace tightly and spill some tears as we bid farewell, because it’s been good while it lasted but we both know that from this point on we will no longer exist as a single entity going by the name of ‘we’; now it’s just you, and me, both heading our separate ways.

When I was reading Ryan O’Connell’s piece called ‘The Friends I Lost (But Still Have to See on Facebook)’ on Thought Catalog, I could hear bells ringing and light bulbs flashing off in my head as I thought to myself, ‘I totally know what this feels like!’ The title of this post is a true reflection of what it is about; the author outlines his friendships all the way back from kindergarten to his adulthood in a ‘back then-but now’ sort of way, which conveys in the most succinct manner how things have changed. Or how people changed.

When my brothers and I were growing up in Colombo, we became extremely close with another Malaysian boy my age, A, whose father was a diplomat with the Malaysian High Commission. Our mothers were very close and often shopped together, and their friendship is one that has lasted to this day. A was almost considered as part of the family already as he always used to come over to our house in Rosemead Place to cycle, rollerblade, or play badminton and cricket with my brothers. Both our families would go on trips to the highlands of Nuwara Eliya, where we visited the tea plantations, and in our childhood photographs such as the one featured in this post, he is almost always present.

We left Colombo earlier than his family did, and it was years before our family reunited in Malaysia in 2002/3 — and boy was it an awkward reunion for the both of us. We were both probably eleven or twelve then, with a huge gap between now and our past childhood. We didn’t know whether to shake hands or not, averted our eyes whenever we crossed paths, and completely ignored each other to this day. I think if we were to sit across from each other at the table we would have little to talk about. “What have you been up to all these years? Remember that time we — “ Um. No. I doubt he’d remember much from his Sri Lankan childhood days but despite the fact that we are not connected on Facebook, I actually know more about him than I should, mostly through exchanges between our mothers. I hear A has done quite well for himself as he has just graduated from law school in Reading, England, in which case a (long-distance but still heartfelt) congratulations are in order, mon ami.

When I was in Colombo I also had another friend, N, a girl a year older than me whose father was also a diplomat with the Malaysian High Commission. N actually exists rather fuzzily in my memories as I wasn’t very close to her as I was with A. One of the reasons for this is probably because N had older siblings while A was still an only child at that time; for this reason it wasn’t difficult for my brothers and I to accept him into our coven for to all of us, he was like a brother from another mother. Coincidentally, A’s father also turned out to be my father’s junior in boarding school from years back, which must be why our parents were quite close then.

N’s family and mine reunited in the most unlikely of places years later: in Cairo, Egypt. According to my eldest brother, after Eid prayers one day, he saw someone who looked like N’s brother T and asked if he used to live in Sri Lanka. T said yes, and mentioned that his father was actually working with the Malaysian Embassy in Cairo. When we visited Cairo that year (December 2004, I think), I met up with N and her family again, and have always maintained contact with her since then, thanks to Facebook.

N’s family later relocated to London and in Spring of 2011, while on exchange in Paris, I decided to take up her invitation and spend my Spring Break in London. Her family had been most kind, accepting me into their home; in the evenings, when everyone had come home from work or class, we’d hang out in the living room and play Pictionary, which was a great way to get acquainted with her older siblings whom I never got to know in Colombo. N showed me around London and we explored the Roman Road Markets, East London, Knightsbridge, London Dungeon, and her campus in the Strand together, which I enjoyed tremendously and truly appreciate.

I would describe my friendship with N in the following words — “friends before we even knew what friendship meant”. For some reason I always felt that it was such a shame that we were too young when we first met in Colombo; too young to build friendships of our own, and to remember much from that time. Whenever I feel disheartened about the many friends I have lost due to our nomadic life over the years, I need only think of N and how friendship isn’t something that lives temporarily and dies forever; it is, in fact, revivable, if you just put in the time and effort to let it grow again.

Fast forward to our time in Accra, Ghana (1999-2001). I think of only person and it is you, Lin. We’ve had great times together doing all sorts of crazy shit, and I can’t think of what Ghana would’ve been like without you; boring and bland, I suppose. May you rest in peace.

Lin and I weren’t in the same class in Ghana International School however, so in class I found company in another girl: Justine Elizabeth Kelly, from the US. J always used to wear her short hair in a braid and we used to hang out in the library together. One time when we went on a field trip to a factory producing plastic bottles I lent her my special pen which was given to me by my father after his trip to Switzerland. The ball point pen was red, with pictures of the Swiss cross and cows all over it. Anyway on our way back to the bus J dropped the pen on the rough gravel and accidentally stepped on it, thus scarring it, and me, for life. I like to keep mementos and gifts from my parents in a state of perfection so I was very frustrated by her carelessness and could not quite get myself to forgive her for a while, despite her apologies. Rest assured, I no longer keep any hard feelings now and have also lost that pen following a series of unfortunate circumstances.

A couple of things I can’t quite forget about her is her big loopy handwriting (and she was left handed too, if I’m not mistaken; not that I have anything against left handed people) and the fact that she lost her Walkman in the library after accidentally leaving it there. Poor thing. That thing was gone for good, of course. I also remember being genuinely sad about leaving her when we had to leave Accra. I’ve been trying to track her down via Google and Facebook — no luck though. Is she still alive? Maybe she just changed her name. J, I wonder where you are now?

Conakry was interesting, to say the least. The school that I went to, the International School of Conakry, was managed by the American Embassy and was significantly smaller than the French school, from what I heard. The campus was no bigger than a residential plot and in fact only consisted of a couple of house-like buildings where classes were held, and a half-abandoned swimming pool and a ‘football field’ (that is actually only 1/120th the size of an actual football field).

The high school and middle school kids formed a tight-knit community, and we were from everywhere — Sierra Leone, Liberia, Lebanon, Cameroon, Nigeria, the US, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Norway. The Norwegian girl, P, was the latest addition to our community and her family had just moved to Conakry from New York, which must have been quite a huge culture shock for her. P found the transition initially quite difficult as she was bullied and it took a while for the other kids to accept her; I tried to ease her way into our group and eventually they were all getting along with her just fine.

P and I grew close over the months. We would rent DVDs and watch them at my place or hers and also write fiction together, which we called ‘Da Bullshit Book’. The fiction-writing project was nothing serious and clearly had no future but for the present it was a great source of amusement for us and got our creative juices flowing. P was studious but also had a fun side to her which was like a breath of fresh air for me as things (socially speaking) were starting to seem a little… stale, so to speak.

When I had to leave in December 2005, it was tough to bid farewell to P, and so soon too. As a parting gift, she gave me a black leather journal that she bought in France, which I still keep and have never yet written in. On my last day in Conakry, while waiting for our flight to Casablanca, we talked on the phone (this was at six A.M. by the way) up until the moment we had to board the plane. But now I just read her updates on Facebook from a distance and we virtually never say hi or wish each other Happy Birthday anymore. When I was in Paris and she was visiting her grandmother somewhere in the south France, I suggested a meeting perhaps in Paris if she could care to make the trip up north, but this was unfortunately a proposition she never responded to with a yes or a no. I was thinking of surprising her in Oslo one of these days. Hmm.

In Conakry I also got close to a Nigerian girl, N, who was sort of like my older sister. N is now doing medicine somewhere in Russia and we have contacted each other sporadically over the years, which is nice. One day she surprised me by calling me when I was in Malaysia, which just fills my heart with gladness even to this day. N was generous; she would give me clothes as a gift and a pair of earrings which I still treasure and keep perfectly safe in my jewelry box.

Interestingly, in 2010, N’s brother, whom I have been friends with on Facebook since a couple of years before, started contacting me via Facebook chat. He would ask me questions like ‘Do you know what love is?’ and ‘What do you think about love?’, but I knew he had specific intentions in asking those questions but couldn’t quite gather the balls to say what he wanted to say. The next year, he contacted me again and played the same act. And the following year too. Finally he said it (not this straightforwardly, of course): I like you. Then he asked, ‘Do you want me to show you what love is?’

Good lord. This was all turning out to be like Foreigner’s single ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’ (which is one of my favorite songs by the way). I was not impressed. He said he would even come to my house in Australia to see me if he had to but I was having none of it; he simply wasn’t what I was looking for. So I turned him down, as nicely as I could. I don’t know if N ever knew about his brother and I but I think it hasn’t really affected our friendship one bit.

I suppose in some ways, some of the friendships I have forged over the years didn’t really die at all; they’ve continued to live on, only the flame has gone. These fleeting friendships have taught me that the reason why we got close was because we were brought together by circumstances and it is that feeling of ‘being in the same boat’ that forms the backbone of our friendship, for that is where our similarities begin. But when our boats have drifted across oceans and taken us along different paths, we are, in short, no longer in the same boat, and there is only one thing we must do: cherish the memories and the good times, but also paddle our boat to a new destination, for that is where a more promising future lies.

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