My best friend when I was six years old was a boy named Afsal. He was a year older than me, our driver Abdul’s son. I still remember his face as vividly as though it were yesterday. Fair, light eyed with chiselled features. He would come over to play with me after school and we would run around in our garden, shrieking like banshees, trying to climb trees. Our dogs (there were five of them at that time) would chase us excitedly, desperate to be part of the action. They too loved Afsal.
Baba was very fond of the little boy. I remember Abdul would never bring him over without an invitation. But my father would make sure that Afsal was invited over regularly. When he forgot, I would nag Abdul to get my way. The last memory I have of him was from my seventh birthday party. Afsal had come over, dressed in a spotless white kurta pajama with a tiny cap on his head. He had handed over his birthday gift with a shy smile. I remember tearing open the shiny silver paper and crying out with joy. It was a bright-red battery-operated helicopter. We had played with the toy for hours, sitting on the floor of our living room. My mother had served us cake and chips and the hours had flown by.
Baba died a few years after and we moved to another house. Abdul was the company driver so we never saw him after that. My mother tells me he did visit a couple of times when he heard about my father. But I never saw Afsal ever again.
I wonder about him sometimes. He would have grown into a handsome man. I wonder where he lives, where he works, about his family. I wonder whether he remembers me. If he saw me across the street, would he recognise me? Would he even say hello?
We grew up in a different time. One where our faith, backgrounds or bank balances didn’t determine our friendships. I’d like to believe that things haven’t changed. Or have they?