We were always good friends. On the playgrounds of Kindergarten school, he would push me forward to be the decision maker to choose which games to play, which teams to make. I was his favourite and the best buddy. In times to come we were to become the tales, the legends to be remembered and spoken of for years. But brutal as time could be, sowings of hope did not materialize the dreams. We were to get separated and remain so for the better part of our young lives. Choices were not ours, only destinies were.
So what if we did not talk in the past 20 years? So what if we do not know anymore about each other? So what if we did not even care whether the other was alive or not? We were good friends and when we would meet, so much will be there to talk about. Stories to share. Narration of the most distinctive experiences and lives of others to be told. How rare is that! Friendships survive the worst. I was excited, happy and pictured myself how to make my talk palatable, my instinctive reactions presentable and hopefully pleasant. It’s not easy to do when you are meeting an old friend after a long time. You don't know whether to be yourself or to be your kid self, which of course you don't remember anymore. It took me some time to imagine in my imaginations how I would have talked if we were regular friends, before I decide that it would be better to be the little polite version of my true-self. But I was still not sure.
It was 20 minutes past the time we had agreed to meet at the location. It was a nicely built cafe with bright colourful lighting and graffiti’s all over the walls. The blend of ethnic feel and the modern touch simultaneously perplexed and delighted my thoughts. He should love this place. He must be a person of classy choices, I deduced from the tiffin boxes he brought as a kid. While I thought of all the nice things that were going to happen, I could not control the urgency of my bladder anymore. I called upon the waiter and instructed him to direct anyone asking for me to the table and I ran to the far side of the cafe for a 180 second loo break. As the tension released, my eyes were dreamy again with a glint and fearful expectation.
When I came out of the washroom, a one-legged man was sitting at the table. Still standing at the far end of the cafe, I avoided his sight. When he turned a little towards me, I immediately feared the worst. He looked poor, terribly poor. His face was scarred and possibly the whole body was scratched like a bed of injuries. But still I could resemble the face of my childhood Vinay with the person sitting there. The man seemed to have suffered many life times in years I had prospered thinking I did not ever had enough. My ideas of friendship shattered. The colourful dreams of an eventful reunion with my childhood friend were not meant to be. This was not what I had imagined it to be like. A surge of strange emotional force ate me up inside rendering me restless and indecisive. It was not empathy or pity. It was a split-second of time when I had to choose between my ideas of how reality should be what really it was. The man needed me perhaps but I needed myself at the moment. I got myself together, slowly I put my head down and walked and walked and walked past the man and left the cafe. The waiter later informed him that I never came to the cafe.
I cried and cried in the comfort of darkness while the friend I hoped to rejuvenate with was probably robbed of the last hope he would have kept safe for more than 20 years. I tried to console myself of what I did. I reasoned in every which way possible to convince myself that I had to make that decision and it was the right one. But only years to come did make me realize the pettiness of my notions and the baggage of guilt I would carry in my many suffered lifetimes to come.
(I realize this illustration is useless. Who cares!)