Rajesh Kumar

Optimizing life, one day after the next

Known Strangers

28 Apr 2008


Last month, my classmate and fellow nanoob Alex Ip wrote a facebook note about society's mis-perception of the term 'friendship'. In that (paragraph 6), he made a very bold statement. An almost "what-you-can't-say" statement. "Even if there was some sort of a connection between two people, it does not necessarily make them friends."

He supported his statement with an interesting story which I thought to be very intriguing. Now I could've printed his story here verbatim, but in true open-source spirit, I decided to modify it a little bit, throw it into the first-person, embellish it with big, sweet-sounding words, and add a little bit of Rajeshian spice here and there. But for the major part, the story is still his.

The Story

When I got drafted, I knew not a single person on the list. I knew I was going to be a loner. A one-man team. And it didn't help that I was extremely introverted. It was sad, really. Two months as a soldier, and I still hadn't made any real friends. I wasn't comfortable talking to anyone in the lot. I didn't know how I was going to make it through the 5 years of agony. I had to endure it. I had no choice. I had no friends, no company, no one I could look up to, no one I could go to for advise. I had no mentors but myself. I realized what great lengths people will go to when surrounded by loneliness in all directions.

And then one day it happened. And it happened so fast. I met Thomas. We went through the same procedure knowing the outcome. We introduced ourselves knowing we would rarely, if ever, be seeing each other after today, let alone speak. That's at least what had happened to all the other people we had introduced ourselves to.

We were both wrong. We quickly found out that Thomas and I were to be drafted to the same squad after training. What's more, we learned that we were both the same age. Thomas was just a few months older than I. It also turned out that he too was from Bridgeport. It was only five minutes ago we thought we had nothing in common. Ah, the joy of running into people who share something common with you!

Thomas and I were able to relate to each other more than any other pair in the squad, perhaps even the entire army. We were able to develop a bond unlike those made by other soldiers who had only the fact that they were soldiers common among themselves. Thomas and I spent hours upon hours talking about our lives back home, our high-schools, and our parents. Between skirmishes and operations, we would return to the barracks to reminisce Bridgetown's ancient beauty. We would chat about our favorite places to relax, our favorite barber, our favorite coffee-shops, and our favorite parks. Restaurants with the worst service and over-priced dalmatians at the neighbourhood pet store were popular topics between us. We would try and name as many hot waitresses as possible. We would poke fun at the mayor and talk about stores to shop for cheap groceries, both in the same conversation. It was rediscovery all over again. I developed a renewed passion for my hometown. Thomas reminded me and brought back scintillating memories of all the good things about Bridgetown, its people, and my very own immaculate childhood there.

I long wondered what made it all so exciting. Was it that we were basking in the knowledge that the other soldiers in our troop couldn't quite share the same fond memories? Was it that they were not in a capacity to relate to our memories of having been little, mischievous boys? It was this knowledge that really helped strengthen our bond, and bring together two seemingly randomly people. I had finally found a true friend.

When Thomas and I returned home after our tour of duty, we found, much to our dismay, that we really didn't have all that much in common except for our hometown. We decided to part ways on the agreement that it was good while it lasted. Five years had flown. Thomas got married to a beautiful girl he had run into at a shoe store. He now had three children to his credit. Responsibility had fallen on his shoulders. He had now become a devoted father who took his kids to swimming lessons and violin practice each week.

Me though, I haven't changed. I'm the same old flamboyant bachelor as I was before I got drafted, drifting from bar to bar, earning just enough to support myself, the idea of savings not even crossing my mind. I lived like there was no tomorrow. I had not the slightest care in the world. I did as I pleased.

Two years later, I drove down to Superstore to get me some beer. I had just parked my car and was fishing for change to slide into the shopping cart. I suddenly saw someone I vaguely recognized on the opposite side of the road. It took me a few seconds. It was Thomas! Along with his very beautiful wife who was keeping close to him, and his three kids. I forced a smile. I wish I hadn't. Because it had gone unreturned. Thomas looked at me, wondered why I was smiling at him, thought I was probably smiling at someone behind him, and continued to keep walking.

Was Thomas my friend? Perhaps yes, according to some people's loose definitions. But not to me. Not anymore. I opened my mouth to shout 'Thomas!'. But the word emanating from my mouth was voiceless. I had little to say to him. Our connection as soldiers meant nothing to me anymore. Who was he, after all? Hell, who was I?

I climbed into my car and drove back home as fast as I could. I could do without the beer tonight.

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