He didn’t have the most normal reaction one expected at the loss of a parent. There were no tears, there was no grief. If I were to identify with the one emotion that he displayed it could perhaps be cataloged as relief. The kind of relief one experiences when a great and terrible burden has been lifted.
Then again, he wasn’t the most normal person, how many people you know would list a bullet proof jacket as their ideal gift? Sameer was, for lack of a better word, unique. We first met as toddlers in the playgroup in our neighbourhood. All the other children would be kicking and screaming all over the place (yours truly included) he would just sit down in a corner with six blocks of “1,2,3” and ABC. He would build two perfect towers one- one for the alphabet and one for numbers, both towers would be perfectly straight with one plastic cube perfectly placed on top of the other. After admiring his work for a minute of two, he would bring the tower down and start the whole process again.
I had never seen him smile.
Sameer lived at home with his parents, his uncle and his uncle’s wife his father’s only brother. Growing up, we were not financially comfortable, our living quarters were cramped and the occasional meal would be skipped but the sense of community made life a lot more easier. There was a principal of fairness instilled in us from the very first day of education. Whatever we brought from home would be pooled in to one huge communal meal. Sameer never brought any lunch throughout our schooling life. Sometimes, I gave him my lunches so that he could share it with the class as his. That’s how our friendship started.
Sameer always had a methodical approach to every thing he ever did, be it stacking blocks as a toddler or tackling any task. I remember when we were in 8th grade, someone donated a bunch of computers to our school, some 5 or 6 monitors were dumped in a large crate and all the wires, keyboards and mouses had been shoved in another box.
The computer systems donated were ancient, dusty, huge and heavy. They had been in a corner of a warehouse gathering dust for god knows how long. Just opening the flap of the box released a puff of dust in our faces. The students of the 8th grade had been instructed to assist the teachers in assembling the computer systems. No one in our school knew anything about computers, but Sameer volunteered to assemble them. Sameer and I stayed back after school to assemble our school’s computer lab which was basically made up of five broken tables pushed together a long extension board which Sameer fashioned from loose sockets, switches and floor boards. He worked very methodically but there was a touch of elegance to his work which made it seem like an artist was working.
After 5 hours of tedious labour, we finally managed to turn on the computers, I think it was in that time that our friendship bond really strengthened. That day we opened up to each other about our dreams. We asked each other what we wanted from our lives. I said that I wanted money, success, comfort and luxury, Sameer on the other hand after some hesitation muttered- “Peace”.
After that I found out that his father was an addict and use to regularly beat up his mother, Sameer had never told me this, the one thing that his father had taught him was never to air his dirty laundry in public. Every new bruise was explained as the result of a “fall”
One day he “fell” so hard that his arm was broken and his mother had also “fallen” with him which resulted in her breaking her ribs. People had asked her what happened and she just brushed it off like her son and said that she had fallen.
Now what I’m about to say next is just speculation based on the facts that I pieced together.
After the aforementioned fall where Sameer and his mother got injured, he complained to me about too many rats in his house. I suggested he get some rat poison from the hardware store around the corner. At the store, Sameer discussed his rat problem and asked for some potent rat poison. When the shopkeeper asked him how much he needed, Sameer replied “Enough to kill a rat no matter how big the bastard is” We took the poison to his house and grinded the small squares into fine white powder and placed it on his center table. We clearly labelled it “Rat Poison”.
I greeted Sameer’s father who only responded with a dazed look. He noticed Sameer standing next to me and asked him “Sameer when will you teach me how to read?”
Sameer did not respond and left the room, beckoning me to follow him.
A few days later, I saw a lot of people gathered around Sameer’s house, an ambulance was parked outside his house. His uncle and aunt were arguing with Sameer’s mother about something.
“But don’t you want to know how he died?” Sameer’s uncle angrily inquired, his aunt was bobbing her head in agreement with her husband.
“We all know how he died,” Sameer’s mother began “Why spend money finding out what we already know?”
“Don’t you owe it to him to find out?” Sameer’s aunt protested
“No.” Sameer’s mother’s eyes flashed dangerously signalling the end of the matter.
I had joined the crowd who were now enjoying watching the drama unfold
An acquaintance in the crowd whispered that Sameer’s father passed away from a drug overdose in the morning. Sameer spotted me in the crowd and beckoned me inside the house.
“Help me tidy up, we’ll be having a lot of visitors soon” he requested picking up shards of glass with his hands. I spotted a small translucent bag sealed lying on top of the sideboard with the sofa. Sameer picked up a similar bag from the center table marked “RAT POISON”, resealed it and placed in his pocket.
“At least the rat problem’s solved”