“We’re going out Nuff, come on. It’s a good day for a walk.”
“Need another excuse to distract yourself? It’s the middle of the week. Back to work with you.”
“Nuff – I don’t want to come back to find you in some self-induced stupor. Let’s go.”
“Whatever – your house, your rules…”
He didn’t really mean that, but we were on our way soon enough. It really was a nice day for a walk. He seemed to think so too. But something about the mood he was in made him think about our history, and what we’d faced together.
“You remember that time I decided to steal some money from that drawer in my house?”
“Of course man, that was over fourteen years ago though. It was the one time I saw your mother that livid with you. Why did you try that anyway?”
“I’d lost the tennis ball we were playing cricket with the evening before, and I had to pay Abdul back – he was pretty insistent, the clod. Come on, we were in middle school. I’m allowed a few silly mistakes if I’m in middle school.”
“Fair enough. All I remember was her staring really horridly at you when she caught you with your hand in her purse.”
“She wasn’t staring at me – she was staring right into me… it was unbelievably unsettling.”
“She told me to leave right then, didn’t she? What happened after that? I’ve never asked.”
“She made me sit in the kitchen with her all evening. She didn’t say a word – she just made me sit and watch her cook. She didn’t look at me, not once. I’ve never felt that afraid around anyone… I could feel this contained rage in her, but waiting to see what would happen felt worse than facing the full brunt of that anger.”
“She just made you sit? That couldn’t have been that bad….”
“You’re kidding right? Being made to contemplate the magnitude of the mistake you’ve just made – no reparation, no retribution, just pure introspection. It was earth-shatteringly frightening. I was imagining all sorts of punishment, but I didn’t realize that this WAS the punishment.”
“So what happened then?”
“My father came home. She spoke to him in the other room. Then they both called me in to sit down in front of them in the other room…
He’d spoken to me at length about right and wrong. They weren’t really religious, but I still remember him telling me about this concept of natural justice. They were both just staring at me. She was angry, but his eyes – his eyes held such unfathomable disappointment. I don’t know what happened, but I just started crying.”
“You cried? I’ve never seen you cry, not even when… Really?”
“Yeah. He told me to stop. I apologized. And then, as if all of that wasn’t enough – he said something that’s stuck with me forever.
He said – ‘Son, when you fall down to this level, I wish just this one thing for you – that you, for all times from now, know exactly what this behavior makes of you; and that you know just how little that means…'”
“You’re not serious. He said that?”
“Yeah. I can’t forget his exact words now, can I?”
“Yeah, but you weren’t even past middle school…”
“Didn’t matter. They knew right from wrong, those two.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“I miss them man.”
“I know Nuff.”
So much of who he is today is shaped by events like this. However intelligent, accomplished or self-taught one might be, some lessons persist inside you forever. Even in Nuff.
“This isn’t a great day for a walk, but better out than in, huh?”
Nuff was smiling again. The day was long from done, but I’d be here for him.
“Better out than in… yeah.”
Nuff said: “It is a comfort in wretchedness to have companions in woe.”
Waits there for a day
She’ll forgive a frown
There’s nothing you can say
Nothing will turn her away
She isn’t leaving town
A morphed sun-lit mask
She’s smiling underneath
A haunting gravity
She’ll never let you sleep
It’ll tug inside, hold deep
There’s nothing in there for me
I wasn’t in the mood for this.
“Stop playing that song Nuff”.
This week just didn’t seem to end. Stop-motion madness. I think Nuff could tell – although he’d been slipping in and out of the room, making shady phone calls. On my phone, even. I didn’t stop him.
“Leave unto Nuff what Nuff would have you leave behind.”
“What was that? I couldn’t hear you behind all that self-hating…”
“That was uncalled for, man. You know that…”
“That you’re really busy? That your weeks are bordering on the absurd? Yeah, who brought all that down on you?”
“Yeah shut up Nuff. I’ve had enough of…”
“No. I’ve had enough. Put that laptop away. We’ve made plans”.
“Fantastic, you always do. But I’m not…”
Six minutes later, we were on the roof of a mid-rise residential building.
“What are we doing here man? Why is that door even unlocked in the first place?”
“Fire regulations. That flight of stairs is the only way in. Therefore, it’s the only fire escape; fire escapes can’t be locked. They wouldn’t be very good at being fire escapes then.”
Made sense. People like Nuff are always on rooftops anyway.
“We wouldn’t want to lose people like you to silly fires, would we?”
“What would you do without me here? Risk frost-bite on your knuckles while you’re cycling a mile back home at 1 am after spending seven hours in the library doing…”
“Just… you know what, man? That’s about enough.”
“I know, I know. Here.”
“I’m not in the mood. Really, it’s been a horrible week, I’m tired and this is difficult enough to handle without…”
Three minutes later, I was half a sports-bottle down through a pale-green liquid that Nuff had brought with him.
“And the taste – man, it tastes like…”
He was smiling to himself again.
“Remember that Iranian guy I played football with? He’s married, and his wife makes this at home”.
“That’s absurd. If this has what I think it does in it, it isn’t even safe to…”
“She’s a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry, with a lot of time on her hands. And the cactus grows in the desert. You put all of that together, and you get…”
“You get messed up, that’s what you get!”
We were laughing really loudly, and on a roof. This wasn’t even funny, but that didn’t stop us. Not when Nuff was around.
I don’t remember much after that, except I remember my phone ringing. Nuff picked it up – he’d seen where I was and decided to intervene.
“Hello? You want whom? He’s gone away, I think. Let me check…
Yeah, he’s not here.”
“Where is he now? I couldn’t tell for certain, really. No, he’s definitely not here though.”
“A message? No man, I don’t think I can get to him right now.”
“Who am I?”
He smiled again. I hadn’t seem him smile like that for a long time.
“Just a friend, maybe. Most of the time, at least.”
“Sorry I couldn’t help… Bye.”
“Thanks, Nuff. I owe you one.”
“Sure. Now, listen to this. This music is what dreams would sound like if they orgasmed…”
Nuff said: “Show me a happy man, and I’ll give you something to laugh at.”