The obvious matters are more imperceptible today. Just as the hoi polloi continue to fasten their interest to the less obvious touchstones of the moment, the otherwise very obvious ones become less obvious with every passing minute. These very-obvious-turned-less-obvious ones then start receiving the spotlight. It’s then that, in order to attend these new less obvious ones, the hoi polloi again end up turning a blind eye to the other very obvious ones that lie exposed to them at that point in time—oblivious that these will soon rise on the palpability scale to become less obvious and demand greater attention. In the end, it’s not the obviousness or the complexity of these things that’s deftly deluding mankind. It’s man himself. Management literature may suavely attempt to wash its hands of it, calling it a lousy time management practice. Yet, doing that will never succeed in tracelessly sweeping this harsh truth, a severe development opportunity for mankind, under the carpet.
This is so true for a friendship. Obvious and seemingly harmless things that just manage to irritate your friend a little bit at a time, if not addressed then and there, may build up over time to give rise to a complex issue. Such an issue would manifest it at the most unusual time, would challenge all explanations, and would expand quickly to leave no time to respond before the friendship loses the passion.
My neighbor and his friend realized this–but it was too late. This is their story.
On a random dry afternoon of otherwise ordinary consequence, two young men aged in their late teens—my neighbor and his hitherto close friend—walking on a narrow street in front of my house, suddenly began to fight quite seriously.
A few minutes before, arms over shoulders, they had been merrily whistling a song together. But the friendly conversation had ceased the second the close friend said something that the neighbor’s volatile temperament could not endure. And the fight ensued.
The details of the conversation were retrieved later through curious common friends.
“Who knows if the earth isn’t just a mouthful of food for huge, lizard-like beings dwelling in a larger part of the universe?” the friend had said, only a couple of minutes prior to the beginning of the fight, with his eyes wide in awe. “Our perception is perhaps not refined enough to be aware of their presence. They might be at an infinite distance, but coverable in few hours for them. Who knows if they cultivate planets as food, just like we grow apples? Just imagine if one of those lousy creatures mistakenly dined on the sun; it would be worse than his dining on earth. I don’t give a rat’s arse what would happen to the creature, or if the ambushed sun would boil the bile in its stomach. Maybe the creature would be just fine. They might grow stars as well, like some sort of high-calorie food? My concern is for us, damned mankind, especially boys our age. If the clumsy creature swallowed the sun, there would be no light anymore. Offices would close down, bringing our parents back home for the entire day to keep us under their miserable scrutiny, a harsher cruelty in the absence of TV. All earthly vitality would perish. Everyone would die. You and I, the best of friends, would die, without fate allowing us a remote opportunity to oblige ourselves of a meaningful debut with female beauties.”
The neighbor listened attentively, without disruption, as they continued to walk. But as soon as the friend paused, the neighbor stopped, backed one step away from the friend, stretched his left hand, and swung it like a horizontal pendulum. The hand kissed the friend’s right cheek hard enough to leave an exquisite red imprint.
The friend was taken aback. The neighbor had never come close to behaving this way in the entire history of their friendship. The friend speechlessly looked at him, completely dumbfounded, as if witnessing an eighth wonder of the world. It took him a few moments before he was able to breathe normally again. He looked around to gauge the amount of self-respect that might have eroded in any passerby’s eyes. Finding no one around, he spoke.
“Have you lost your mind, shameless son of a virgin? I pardon your momentary savagery this time, O dear friend. But for your own good, I advise that you not to repeat the act. You’d better not.”
The neighbor smiled. His hand swung again from the other direction and kissed the left cheek this time, even harder.
“Let’s settle this,” said the friend, calming down a bit. “You are my friend, and I respect you for that, but, O dirty sinner, if you render one more blow, relations between us may no longer remain harmonious. One more blow and you will see how I return the bloody knock.”
Without saying a word, smiling, and slightly biting his lower lip with his teeth, the neighbor smacked a wild one on the friend’s right cheek.
“My friend, you seem to be really angry at me. But beware, my volatile friend! As soon as anger knocks at one’s door, wisdom prepares to leave. You seem to be completely dried of wisdom at this point, and that simply troubles me! It’s for this reason I have not retaliated yet to your disgraceful behavior. Do not think that I can’t give it back to you. I am no wimp! I am just trying to help here. Whack my hurting cheeks one more time, and it’s my promise that no one can be as wicked as I.”
The neighbor lazily thundered another one on the friend’s left cheek.
By this time a small crowd had formed a circle around them, mainly comprised of middle-school boys and girls walking home, jobless men on their way to or from an interview, retired men trying to kill time, street vendors with half-rotten fruits, and a number of construction laborers on their way to buy lunch from the nearby tea stall that turned itself into a stand-up restaurant each afternoon. The friends treated them all to a fortuitous thrill amidst an otherwise unexcitingly passing day. So they did not wish to disrupt it.
“Look, my only true friend,” the friend tried to whisper in the neighbor’s ear, keeping his mouth as close as he could manage. “Although you have crossed all the boundaries today, I am still willing to leave silently now and settle this matter later in private. Fool, your beloved sister’s only brother, try to see the point here! Even if there is an issue, it’s personal, about us, and we can talk about it in privacy. Let’s not produce more material for these losers to laugh at behind our backs.”
The neighbor prepared another blow, but appeared to have lost much of his verve.
Covering both his cheeks with his hands, the friend then turned to the crowd and shouted, “Hell, why are you standing here like ruined statues? Is there an exhibition going on here—or a free mujra? Some shameless celestial influence seems to have come over my friend temporarily. He will be all right in a minute. You’d better go your way.” Seeing no influence on the onlookers, he screamed with frustration. “Ah, you losers! Shake your rotten tails! You need more blood than I imagined!”
The neighbor saw the friend’s discourse as an attempt to divert his focus. He looked around the crowd, paid passing attention to each face, and started detaching his belt from his trousers. He took the belt in both hands, like an offering to God, and strolled solemnly along the inner side of the people-circle to allow everyone a close look at it. He swirled it in imperfect circles every few seconds, swearing loudly every time, and then placed it again on both hands in the offering form. The additional dash caused a momentary uproar in the crowd as the children and shorter people rushed to the inner side of the circle. The friend watched the neighbor’s activity in nervous awe, sweating with fear, aware of what was coming next, yet unable to move a limb.
After completing a full circle, the neighbor came back to the center, stood facing the friend, dropped to his knees, and held the belt on his skyward-facing palms. He then closed his eyes and reverently brought his forehead down to touch the belt in slow motion to worship it as a sacred weapon before its first use. He came back from that position after a few seconds, again in slow motion, drowsily opened his eyes, and whirled the belt with full force at the friend like a whip.
The friend writhed in horrid pain as the belt hit his buttocks, but quickly realized that he needed to be ready for his self-defense. He also thought that it was critical to get the neighbor to speak to help him escape the dangerous disposition he was caught in at the moment.
“All right, all right, I admit my unforgivable mistake. Tell me, what can I do to nullify it?”
The answer was another monstrous whip of the leather blade. This time a little lower, on his legs.
“All right, beat me. All right! As a dutiful friend, I will offer myself in entirety to thee, but I still find myself at the pinnacle of a doubt-hill when I consider whether this beating is truly going to grant you any satisfaction.”
The neighbor rendered another whip stroke, this time lazy and inaccurate. Everyone in the crowd stood extraordinarily still, as one big, well-behaved body, unwilling to move a limb for fear of drawing Satan’s attention and his leather whip.
The fear of dire consequences if the current business continued (not courage) sparked innate strength of self-defense in the friend; he grabbed at the other side of the leather blade. The unexpected rebellion irritated the neighbor-beast. He stretched his right hand as high as he could, hurled the belt in hard circles and threw it into the crowd after it had gained enough momentum. He then tore his clothes to expose his bare upper torso. His muscles swelled through the skin as though they were still unsatisfied and wanted to break free to batter everyone in the crowd!
He then tore the friend’s shirt apart and hit his chest vehemently against the friend’s chest. He then lifted the friend with both hands over his shoulders, spun around a few times, and lowered the friend onto the ground, safely and face down. He then sat over his back, held his head with both hands and pressed his mouth into the sandy soil, damp from the overnight rain. Scooping up a handful of this soil, he massaged it on the friend’s hair.
With that, his efforts lost their gusto, and beating the daylights out of the friend any further seemed to bore him. He stood up, languidly kicked the friend’s butt with his right foot, stretched both hands up in the air like a boxing champion, bowed to the spectators, and left.
This switch brought the spectators back to the real world. They applauded behind him, but he did not care to look back or acknowledge them in any other way. If there was ever a kingdom of indifference, no one else deserved to be its king more than he did for his outstanding ability to expand the kingdom’s sovereignty.