Alex Njoo: “Remembering George”

Dear George,

I’m sorry that I didn’t speak at your memorial. But I felt that those who did; had done so with such heartfelt eloquence. Anything I’d say would have been superfluous.

At any rate, you’d have dismissed the whole performance of grieving friends and relatives, albeit celebrating your life and achievements, as hogwash.

You disliked pomp and ceremonies. You’ve always said that sincerity could not be scattered for one and all to see, so much so, it often became an expression of regret rather than genuine sorrow or happiness.

On second thought, well meant as the idea of the memorial was, you wouldn’t have turned up. Instead, you would have walked your favourite Foreshore, picking up the odd bits of debris that thoughtless people threw away. And I, the odd times that we walked together, would remind you that your obsession for doing so bordered on the unhealthy. Then, our conversation would lapse into the right and wrong of how seriously would we, as users of public places, regard our role as their custodians.

“Our indigenous cousins do a better job of looking after our earthly legacy,” you’d add. And that was the way that you view the world. No frills. A blank canvass, as it were, where the landscape belongs to all of us.

At the same tme, we both suffered fools very badly. You had no patience for the minutiae of every day life, and I was a hoarder of pedestrian events. You were a complex person; not an easy person to be with some of the times.  Often, our worlds clashed and we both stuck to our own planets

If we had met when the blossoms of our youth were bursting with joyous abandon, we’d never have found common ground to begin our friendship. Instead, we met only a decade or so ago, in the twilight of our lives.

We met at one of those advocacy groups, usually formed to protest against the idiocy of local governments. This time, it was a gargantuan shopping behemoth that would ravage a public space, our beloved foreshore. There were allegations of collusions and conflicts of interests among the protagonists, including some members of the local burghers. It was a morass of planning idiocy and commercial greed, with a dash of corrupt behaviour on the part of those who should know better.

You were, until then, relatively unknown to the local citizenry, having come from interstate. But soon, your forensically attuned mind began to wield the kind of ideas that the advocacy group needed.

I think it was you, George, who suggested a weekly morning coffee chat at a neighbourhood cafe, frequented by some of the so-called ‘intelligentsia’. I began to introduce you to some of them. They warmly welcomed you into their ‘esoteric’ fold. You fit into that milieu like a glove, George.

Occasionally, we would meet at the overpass towards the beach; I would be on my way to the local swimming bath, and you and your wife would be returning from your morning walks.

I have often mentioned to you that I envied your long and deliberate strides. On the odd occasion that we walked together, I often felt like Pancho to your Don Quixote.

We met, at the time of our lives when some friendships began to fade, often due to death of one or the other person. But our collective concern about ‘doing the right thing’ seemed to transcend all those circumstances.

We were different, yet similar in so many ways. We never shared a war or a sporting field, as neither of us was sports-minded. We travelled widely, albeit separately; you with your wife, and I with my younger family. Almost every year you would spend some time in your beloved Italy. Upon your return, you’d regal me with your travel tales. Your passing knowledge of Italian and French gave you the cultural insights of the places you visited.

And although, you were native-born, I have often said that you struck me of being born overseas. Not English, Scottish or Irish, but European. I thought, perhaps Italian? We’d laugh at the perception that we had of each other. We even toyed with the idea of writing each other’s obituary.

You said, “ I think we know one another well enough, to do that. What do you think?”. I agreed. But time and other distractions meant that we never did. Although, you intimated that you had written a draft.

I wish that the last time we met, that I had said what I wanted to say. But your illness had taken hold of you. Your eyes, however, understood the unspoken words.

Life, as they say, is for the living. But I shall dearly miss our extraordinarily ordinary friendship.

Affectionately yours.

Alex Njoo


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