I still remember the day they told me my best friend was moving away. His parents were over at our house. It wasn’t unusual for them to visit so I wasn’t surprised when I saw them pull up on the driveway. I was disappointed to see that they had come without bringing their son, my friend. As they passed through the threshold, I could tell something wasn’t right. His mother was barely audible. I was afraid my friend had gotten sick again. We weren’t exactly sure what he suffered from, but he would be fine most of the time. He was just like all the other kids except he would leave the classroom every day at 2:30pm to take his medicine. Then there were the other days when he wouldn’t leave his house because he was so sick, or he would be taken to the hospital. Those days became less and less. He was getting better. He had just gotten out of the hospital about a week ago and his father had talked to my father about how this would likely be the last time.
His father knelt down and explained to me that they had sent their son to stay with his grandparents and that I would not be seeing him at school anymore. The news did not come as a surprise to me. His father often spoke about how this was not the best environment for a sick child. It would be better for him to live in a warmer climate and with access to better medical care versus the harsh winters and mediocre medical facilities of our rural hometown.
These are the things I was thinking about as I sat at the airport waiting to board my flight. Now at the age of 36 I had decided to find and reunite with my friend. It’s true, we did not keep in touch at all after he moved away. I did not see him over the summers. I did not get any phone calls from him, nothing. But I never forgot him. I’m not sure what took me so long to decide to go see him. I guess life just happens and before you know it your life is halfway through. I suppose it’s a good thing in a way too. If I didn’t feel like time was flying by, who knows how much longer I’d have waited.
I was on my way to see his parents. They had moved down to Dallas after they retired. I was unable to locate him or his grandparents at all. I expected as much after so many years. What I didn’t expect was that his parents wouldn’t return any of my calls. I was sure there must have been some sort of explanation. It had been a few months since we spoke, but we were always on good terms.
Before I knew it, I was on the flight thinking about all the trips together we could have had. I thought about our class trip to the zoo. We were all excited to see the lions. They were the main attraction. My friend would have loved the elephants more though. He should have been there, but maybe it was a good thing he wasn’t. We’d have been so rowdy they’d probably have thrown us in a cage and made a whole exhibit. I chuckled to myself.
“Is everything okay sir?”, the flight attendant interrupted my daydream.
“Oh, I’m fine.” I said. As she left, I noticed that it was almost time to land. I expected this flight to be the longest few hours of my life but it was quite the opposite. My thoughts kept me very occupied and time passed by quickly. Before I knew it, I was in an uber on the way to his parent’s house. This was the first time I was seeing them since retirement. What if my friend was there with them also paying a visit? It was something I pictured in my head many times. For some reason, the thought never sat well with me though. Maybe it had just been too long.
I know it might seem weird to some people. But to me, he never really stopped being my friend just because he was gone. I often thought of things he would do and say in certain situations knowing if he were there he would say and do them himself. Ultimately, I always anticipated the day we would reunite, as though it had been ordained.
“Thanks”, I said, leaving the uber. I walked up the driveway to his parent’s door. I recognized the house. I had seen it in pictures before.
A few knocks later, the door opened, and I saw his father standing there. The formalities sped by. I was sitting on the couch eating biscuits when I asked about my friend. It was immediately apparent to me, that I had asked the wrong question somehow. It was written all over their faces.
His mother looked away. His father looked at me blankly, “Son, his grandfather and grandmother passed on before either of you were born.”
That’s when the truth of it struck me. He died in that hospital. He never got better. How could I have missed it? Did they not tell me? Or did I misunderstand? Did I make the whole thing up? I didn’t know which questions to ask. I remembered all my daydreams, and now they really were just daydreams.
Aamir stared blankly at his computer screen. He was searching for something to watch while eating and came across an advertisement for men’s dress shirts. His mind trailed off into thoughts of how he owned too many black shirts. “I like black clothes”, he thought to himself, “but there are other colors.” Meanwhile, his food started getting cold sitting next to his computer. Finally, he decided there was nothing to watch and that he would just have to eat without watching anything.
Just then, his phone began vibrating. He looked over to see who was calling, “Amal Texas”. He had initially included Texas as part of her name to remind him of who she was since he never expected her to become someone he talked to regularly. He hesitated for a minute, looked back at his food, then back at his phone. Then with a sigh, he answered the phone.
“Hey, what’s up, Salaam”, he said, realizing this was the first thing he said all day.
“Hey, how are you, what are you doing?”, she asked in the same perky preprogrammed way she always started her conversations.
“I’m not doing anything”, Aamir answered.
“Haha, are you just sitting there!?” she teased. She was obviously trying to liven up the conversation. Aamir’s mood often shifted from energetic to sluggish spontaneously so it was difficult to tell if something was actually wrong or if he was just in a low energy mood. In this case, he was in a low energy mood.
“I’m just existing. Was thinking about standing up at some point.” He said, still staring at his food.
“Haha”, she laughed, as she could think of no response to his awkward comment. “I need your input on something, it’s about this guy I’m talking to.”
Aamir braced himself. He knew it would be the same conversation all over again. Amal was a 32 year old CPA. She was quite accomplished regarding her career. She projected a cool confidence that earned the respect of her peers as well as her superiors. It was for this reason that Aamir really respected and looked up to her. In fact, he thought of her as a mentor and one of the smartest people he knew. But when it came to relationships, she didn’t seem to know up from down. She had used her early and mid-20s to focus on her career which left little time for any romantic interest. While this yielded great results for her professional life, she soon found herself 27 and alone. Her mother, a traditional Pakistani woman, found this to be unacceptable. In her mind, her daughter being so old and unmarried meant she was a failure as a parent. She had begun looking for suitors when Amal was 21 but Amal insisted that she have more time to focus on her education. They compromised and decided that they would begin the search for a suitable husband when Amal reached the age of 24. Amal thought it was ridiculous that a time limit be placed on her marriage, but that didn’t change the fact that she felt like she was getting older and wanted to find someone. As the years passed and feelings of loneliness overtook her, her standards for men dwindled. Aamir had tried to advise her many times that she was considering the wrong men. These were people with commitment issues, people who were not serious about her, people whose personal or professional lives were in shambles, and other people with a whole host of other issues. Aamir disliked that someone he looked up to would waste her time on losers. It took special effort on his part to look at her as a girl who needed a helping hand, rather than as an infallible mentor. No matter how many times Aamir warned her, she always came back with the same problem and a different loser.
“Okay tell me about it”, Aamir said. He thought back to when he used to be enthusiastic about these conversations. He did enjoy being a go to guy for advice, but he’d done it so many times now for so many people that lately he was feeling a bit jaded.
She began her story before he finished his thoughts, “Okay so I met him a few weeks ago through a friend.” She paused, “You cannot be mean to me okay.”
“When am I ever mean?” Aamir was confused.
“All the time! Try better to be understanding of my situation.” She demanded.
“Okay, okay I’m sorry.” Aamir said, realizing that an argument was not a good idea. If she felt he was being mean he’d just have to be extra nice. It was a sensitive topic after all.
“Okay”, she continued, “I met him a few weeks ago through a friend. We’ve started emailing. He used to email me every day before we started texting. We met up twice. Once I went to lunch with him but that was only for an hour because I had to get back to work. Then the next time, we went for a walk. It’s really hard because we’re both super busy.”
“Question.” Aamir interrupted.
“Yes?” Amal asked.
“Who the hell goes for a walk?” Aamir teased.
“Haha shut up.” She joked back.
“Okay but really, was this a set up or were you just introduced as friends?” Aamir asked in a more serious tone.
“It was a set up. She introduced us like that. So anyway. It’s been like a month and where he used to text me every day he doesn’t anymore.” She said, her voice saturated with disappointment and exhaustion.
“So, he stopped talking to you? I’m not understanding the problem.” Aamir asked, a bit confused.
“He still talks to me but it’s not like it used to be. He responds late, sometimes he’s active online on social media, but he hasn’t answered me…” She complained.
Aamir interrupted, “Do you even like this guy?”
“Wait what do you mean?”, She responded as though he had asked an absurd question.
“Well, you’re complaining that he talks to you slightly less than he used to. Normally when you tell me about a guy you mention how much you like him. You haven’t mentioned it at all this time, so I’m asking.” Aamir explained.
There was a pause in the conversation. It was only for a few seconds, but it felt like a few minutes.
Finally, Amal spoke, “Aamir, I have to consider the guys that show an interest in me.”
It was a formula for disaster. All the pieces were placed in perfect catastrophic order. Aamir wanted to put an end to it, but he knew he wouldn’t. “Life isn’t a movie”, he thought to himself, “My input has to be practical, realistic, and honest…regardless of what I want it to be.”
“Look”, Aamir said, “You’re probably not gonna get your love story, but that doesn’t mean you should settle either. There is a middle ground.”
“I guess”, she sighed, “So where am I supposed to find someone, I’m so old.”
“I don’t know, don’t you have amazon prime?” Aamir joked.
“Haha seriously, what should I do about this guy?” Amal asked.
“Well you could always change your phone number and move, but if you insist on talking to him just talk to him and wait and see where it goes. Just this time don’t let it drag. If you find that it stagnates just ask him where it’s going. You’re not college kids anymore, you don’t have time to play games. If he’s mature and serious he won’t mind the question.” Aamir felt as though he was summarizing all their conversations over the past year.
“So it’s not weird then? How long should I wait before I can ask that?” Amal asked sluggishly. Her voice exemplified how tired she was of continuously repeating the same process. She wanted to be done with it.
“It’s not weird, just wait like two more weeks, and then just ask what his intentions are. It’s not abnormal to talk more or less at different times.” Aamir said quickly. “Hey listen I gotta go, but you’re going to be fine.”
“Okay, thanks so much. And hey you have to tell me about your girl situation”, Amal said.
“There’s no girl situation.” Aamir responded awkwardly, “I’ll talk to you later.”
They both said “bye” at the same time. After he hung up the phone, Aamir put his finger on his food. “Great, cold”, he thought to himself. He looked back at his phone to see a text message from Sahina, “Hey, loser.” He smiled. He realized he liked her a few months ago. Since then he’d been putting in extra effort to act as though nothing had changed, he had decided he was not going to tell her about it. He put his phone back down without answering her text.
He was now deciding whether he wanted to go all the way back downstairs to reheat the food or just eat it cold. He took a bite, paused for a minute, then took another bite. He then picked up the plate and took it downstairs. When he returned to his room he found a new text message on his phone from Sania, “Hey you have a minute? I need to ask you something?”
He put his phone back down. “I wonder if eating counts as being busy?” He thought to himself as he ate, “It has to. What else do people do?” Another text message appeared on his phone, “Are you there?”
Sania was a little younger, but she was with an older guy. Aamir thought back to her breakup. It was a bad one and it was only four months later that she found her new guy. Within that four-month period, she made it no secret that she had feelings for Aamir. Aamir brushed it off as a girl on the rebound. She did not react well to his answer. Sania was an attractive girl and was not used to being rejected. This all happened weeks ago and Aamir assumed it was all water under the bridge.
Finally, Aamir called Sania. Aamir did not like being on the phone, he preferred to talk via text or in person. Since he had already been on the phone for some time that day, he decided he would end the conversation quickly.
“Hey, what were you doing?” Sania asked full of enthusiasm.
“Nothing, I just woke up.” Aamir answered monotonously.
“Really? Haha, I believe it. It’s so obvious from your voice.”, Sania said, slightly screaming.
“Let’s skip to the part where you tell me about your guy problems.” Aamir said impatiently.
“I just don’t know. I know he’s busy but I just feel like he doesn’t pay attention to me enough. I hate to be one of those girls so I don’t want to say anything but I just feel so depressed about it. Like he used to talk to me a lot more and text me and stuff but now he doesn’t. Do you know what I’m saying?” Sania complained.
“First of all, that was like six run-on sentences.” Aamir joked.
“Shut up, you’re so annoying.” Sania grumbled.
“Dude, just tell him. How is he supposed to know if you don’t tell him. You’re definitely overthinking it.” Aamir answered sharply.
“But what if he thinks I’m annoying or too much work?” Sania continued to complain.
“If he does then better you find out sooner than later. But he won’t, he’s with a younger girl he has to be understanding you know.” Aamir explained.
“Hey, I am very mature for my age!” Sania retorted. Aamir did not think Sania was mature at all, even for her age. He worried about her being with an older man. She overestimated her own maturity, that much was for sure. In fact, it wasn’t the age difference that truly worried him. While the age gap was large, it was still within a normal socially acceptable range. What really bothered him, was her immaturity mixed with the fact that she had just gone through a bad breakup. He had decided not to say anything, as telling a child what to do only makes them act like even more of a child. Unknown to Sania, Aamir had asked around about the guy she was seeing. When the results of the “background check” came back with no issues, Aamir decided to leave well enough alone.
“It doesn’t matter how mature you are, you’ll never make up for this age difference.” Aamir copped out.
“That’s true.” She said.
“Just talk to him, it’ll be fine okay kiddo. I’m going to get going. You’re not being needy I promise.” Aamir said quickly.
“Okay, thanks. I needed that. You’re a great person. Whatever girl gets you is going to be really lucky.” Sania said.
“Yeah, I’m a winning lottery ticket.” Aamir rolled his eyes.
After exchanging pleasantries with Sania, Aamir finally hung up the phone. He proceeded to walk across his room to plug his phone into the charger. “That’s enough of you for today”, he thought. As Aamir plugged the phone in, he noticed another text message from Sahina, “0 minutes ago. I was just kidding about calling you a loser, don’t be so upset.”
Aamir couldn’t think of anything to write back. After a few minutes of contemplating witty comebacks, he simply texted “lol”.
The sound of the chair reclining resounded through the quiet office. He scrolled through the youtube recommendations in the same halfhearted manner as he had the day before. He had already seen most of them. A well-dressed and generic looking man in a grey suit and black tie walked in. He had a big smile on his face, “I saw that it was open. Just wanted to come in and see how everything was going.”
Without looking up, he responded, “Going well sir, I’ll have everything in by the end of the day.”
“Sounds good. There’s fresh coffee in the break room and let me know if you need anything else.” Said the man as he walked out.
He sighed, “will do, thanks.”
He waited a second. Then he jumped off his chair and hurriedly shut the door, making sure to lock it. He walked over back to his desk and opened the bottom drawer. He shifted through some papers pulling out a small white bottle from underneath. Carelessly, he threw the bottle on his desk and fell back into his chair, loosening his blue and dark blue checkered tie. He had started taking the pills several months ago. He didn’t need them, but they made the day go by much faster. He knew he would never take too many anyway. He couldn’t afford it. His supplier insisted on a hefty price. He sat up in his chair and took hold of the bottle. He twisted open the top and quickly but carefully transferred one pill from the bottle to his hand to his mouth. He seized the mug full of water from his desk and swallowed the pill with one giant gulp. He couldn’t wait for it to take effect. The day would end in a flash.
His mind began to wander into daydreams full of half thoughts; as if his mind was playing a movie he wasn’t paying attention to. He didn’t notice his breathing begin to slow. As he slowly fell back in his chair, his eyes began to close. He heard a faint crashing noise which he failed to recognize as his chair tipping over and his body hitting the floor….
“The doctor says I don’t need it anymore, and my parents are taking his side, but I know I’m still in pain.” He said discontentedly. His arm had completely healed but he felt he still needed the medicine. He had taken matters into his own hands and gotten more from one of the other kids at school.
His friend looked back at him, “Why don’t parents understand anything? They’re gonna tell you you’re not in pain now?”
He laughed, “Hold on man, I’m just gonna take one of these really quickly. Make sure no one comes in here okay.” He said, moving into the bathroom. He hurried passed each stall checking underneath to ensure no one was there.
He knocked on one of the stalls, “hey!”
No one answered. The bathroom was empty. He shoved his hand into his pocket to take one of the pills out of the baggie without removing the baggie from his pocket. After a minute of struggling, he got it. He placed the white tablet on his tongue. He didn’t have his water bottle with him. It wasn’t a problem. He had been taking medicine for some time now and did not need water to wash it down.
His mind began to wander into daydreams full of half thoughts; as if his mind was playing a movie he wasn’t paying attention to. His hands rested on either side of the sink. He didn’t notice his breathing begin to slow. Slowly, his eyes began to close. He heard a faint crashing noise which he failed to recognize as his body hitting the floor…
The blinker flashed, left, left, left, left. She waited patiently for an opening in the oncoming lane. She thought about the groceries she had just purchased, neatly arranged in the trunk. Sighing, she took the left turn. She was practically home now. She heard honking behind her. She was driving 10 miles per hour below the speed limit. She watched the houses slowly pass by until she saw her own in the side mirror. She turned onto the driveway and set the car in park. She turned the air conditioning up and sat back. It was already cool in the car, but she still felt as though she was burning up. She flipped open the glove compartment. She stared at the white pill bottle inside. She looked up to see her neighbor walking back to his front door. She waited for him to go inside. As the door closed behind him, she pulled out the pill bottle and quickly put one of the pills in her mouth. She took her water out of the cupholder and slowly drank the pill down. She stared down at the pill bottle thinking about how she should put it away immediately. She did not. She thought about getting caught with the pills. The police would take her away. She wouldn’t be home for when the kids arrived, dropping their things all over the floor and constantly asking “what’s for dinner”. Her husband would get a call, but he’d be too busy to answer it. She’d be stuck in prison. She didn’t notice her breathing begin to slow. Her mind began to wander into daydreams full of half thoughts; as if her mind was playing a movie she wasn’t paying attention to. Slowly, her eyes began to close. She heard a honking noise which she failed to recognize as her head hitting the car horn…
“How could you do something like this?! What have you turned into?”, His partner asked.
He smiled, “I’ve never left a job undone, and I wasn’t about to start.”
His partner now somewhere between confused and angry, “A job undone, you were taken off the project, so now you just kill innocent people?!”
He maintained his composure, completely calm, “Hardly innocent, they were drug addicts. The disease of civilization. I was going to bring down this whole drug crisis in a better way, but the captain didn’t have the stomach for what needs to be done. None of them felt any pain. They basically just went to sleep.”
His partner frantically, “Went to sleep?! You poisoned the drugs. You poisoned people. They’re all dead.”
He smirked, “Yes, it is less than ideal but it was a necessary sacrifice. Now the drug issue is solved. No more addicts and no more suppliers.”
His partner paused. Slowly, the color returned to his face as he became calm, “You have lost it. You’ve become everything you used to stand against. You may not be addicted to drugs, but you are an addict of the worst kind.”
His partner took a step forward, “You are under arrest.”
He held out his hands, “I’ll go quietly.”