A Friend From Long Ago

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A teacher in primary school once said, “There is no such thing as a best friend at your age. How will you know who will be the best friend you can possibly have?” On hindsight, I think I understand why she would have said that to a class of primary four students. We were at an emotionally vulnerable age where we declared each other best friends one minute, and broke off friendships the next. What was usually at stake was popularity and friendship – those things that seemed the world to a ten year old. No wonder she felt compelled to set our minds straight when she could. But her good heart sank deep in my mind and I have believed since that the words “best friends” were empty words, void of the promise they may have once held.

I had a good friend in primary school. We lived two streets away from each other, a total walking distance of ten minutes on average. Our parents were “friendly” – they met one another at those Primary One orientation sessions. I recall that my mother and her mother were ex-colleagues many years ago. Because we lived so close to each other, we took the same school bus every morning.We became quick friends even though we were from different classes, because we spent so much time outside of school getting to know each other.

One of my favourite childhood activities was going to her house. It became a norm to find her at my house, and more commonly, me at hers. My domestic help, “auntie”, would walk me to her terrace house, and leave me play there for a number of predetermined hours. We did many things at her home. I did not own any Barbie doll sets, but she did. And we would play Barbie and Ken sometimes in one of those spare rooms in her house. There was also an electronic walkie talkie set, which we would use when we played “espionage”. That did not happen often because we would need access to the many rooms in her home, and may not have been the most convenient. There was also those drawers of toys and lego playsets which we enjoyed thoroughly during our childhood years. She was an only child, and my younger siblings then were still too young to engage in meaningful play time with me.

As the years passed, we matured from playing with doll sets and plastic toys, to flipping through mesmerising encyclopaedic adventures in her set of encyclopaedias. I remember that it was dark brown and had a layer of dust over it which we had to sweep off before reading.

We also picked up the habit of using the telephone. I still remember her contact number after so many years, like a set of numbers purposefully engraved in your head, a pattern that glowed on the keypad of the phone. We would talk, at first for a few minutes, asking about homework and what to bring to school on those “special” days, then tens of minutes, then hours. We indulged in the latest gossip, sharing the events of the day, I remember even reading whole articles off magazines and books to her – a few times I chose articles from a Christian magazine that accompanied me through my youth (BRIO). I enjoyed reading aloud, and I remember also being prompted to share with her the good news that I treasured after I turned to Christ.

We even had a “friendship journal”, where we would take turns to write journal entries or letters to each other, and exchange it every fixed number of days.

I remembered that at one period, her parents would drive us both to school in the mornings. I would walk to her house, and then take her father’s white Mercedes to school. Most of the time, I would look forward to going even earlier for breakfast with her family. It was strange having breakfast with them, because contrary to the practice at home for me, where eating bread was a norm, having hot porridge in the morning was a norm for them. I grew to enjoy the novelty of the experience though. Because she lived with her grandparents, their family was also conscious of the amount of salt in their food. That explained the very different taste of the porridge, which to be honest, did not rest well with my tastebuds at first. The plain porridge grew on me though, and over time, I looked forward immensely to the steamed minced meat dish, steamed pork balls, and steamed egg.

Those were very happy childhood memories. But like all things, friendships do not always last, they do not necessarily grow stronger, and very often they fade away. Just like how I recounted the good times, I shall now attempt to capture the fading of the very friendship I held dear.

Although we enrolled into the same secondary school, we were streamed into very different classes. With that, we came into contact with different groups of people. Perhaps in a bid to “survive” in a new environment, I sought out safer ground – a space where I had friends I could trust, friends I could hang out with during recess, friends whom I could count on to do group projects with in class. That must mean that the time and effort I had to spend with this special childhood friend was greatly reduced. We could no longer talk about what happened at school (for we understood less and less of it), or how a particular teacher or schoolmate was like (for we knew completely different people), or ask about the homework that had to be submitted.

I remember growing colder towards her. At that time, I felt that she belonged to a different class of people, a different world. I cared less for her as a friend, and more for those new friends I made in class, in CCA, those friends I could have the same recess with or count on to send me reminders about school. Our sentiments towards each other grew more distant as we turned to different friends in our now vastly social circles. We stopped exchanging diaries, letters, and the times we exchanged greetings in school were driven by guilt and compensation rather than good affection and friendship.

There is very little of what I can recall beyond primary school quite apparently. Yet every year on my birthday without fail, this special childhood friend will send me a birthday greeting – and this is not because of Facebook birthday reminders. Her goodwill and faith in people moves me. I truly hope good things always come her way, and she finds a best friend to spend the rest of her life with. :)

All the best, dear friend!

 

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