He was eight.
Skinny, bespectacled and painfully shy.
And I was a seven year old bully who was not at all pleased at the prospect of entertaining a strange boy.
“Be nice to him”
My father warned, in a tone that he reserved exclusively for me. Roughly translated, this meant “I will skin you alive if you play any nasty tricks on him”.
Isn’t it unfair how kids are forced to befriend other kids simply because their parents happen to be friends? But maybe it’s an essential part of our social education; tolerance of imbeciles 101.
Starting that day, for many years to come, this boy became the bane of my existence.
For some weird reason our families seemed to think we were meant to be playmates. I suspected that little rat went home and said he had a good time. So every time his parents came over they would bring him along and pair him off with me.
How I resented those long visits when I would much rather have read a book or played an active sport. But no, I was stuck with this boy who suffered from asthma and therefore could only sit and play insipid board games.
It also didn’t work in his favor that he was a brilliant student. When reports came at the end of each term, lectures I received from my parents never failed to end with “why can’t you be more like X? He wakes up at 5am to study. He doesn’t even go for tuition and he gets 90’s for all subjects….blah blah blah”
Obviously, none of this endeared him to me. And he was duly paid back with the occasional teaspoon of chillie powder stirred into his tea or chewing gum on the seat of his pants. As we grew older, I went from mean tricks to ignoring him to being a downright bitch to him. But it must be said that he bore it all very bravely and never once snitched on me.
To my greatest relief, and probably his too, he was sent away to another country for studies and I never spared him another thought. Until I discovered that we have a mutual friend.
Last year when we met him for dinner, my jaw nearly hit the floor and I couldn’t even recognize the boy. The bumbling geek had somehow transformed into this suave, eloquent and very attractive guy. He is now a globetrotting consultant who lives in Europe and drives a sleek sports car.
Mostly though, I was shocked to find out how much I genuinely liked him. He was interesting, made great conversation and had a quirky sense of humor. The only thing that had not changed was his attitude. That same agreeable manner, with which he patiently allowed me to drape him in a sari to play “school”.
Fortunately for me, he only seemed to have good memories of our play-dates and I dared not contradict. But I thought to myself, what a pity it was that I never figured him out long ago. We really could have been good friends over the years.
Thankfully, I have been given a second chance to make amends for being such a jerk to him. We now stay in touch and make it a point to meet up whenever he is in town. Last night he turned up with a big box of chocolates for me. And I believe it is now safe to assume that he has forgiven me the time I gave him erasers wrapped in chocolate foil.
So, while my kids will never be forced to make friends someday, they will however be told this story and asked to make a choice on how they treat the ‘geeks’.