For the GEEK in you

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

An ode to Bjorn

August, 1994. My family had completed our latest move from Abu Dhabi to Dubai (we ping ponged back and forth since 1980). To be honest, I was not sad to leave AD; it was a quiet, sleepy place, good for growing up in a Wonder Years kind of way. But the powerboat blitzkrieg of adolescence was fast approaching, dumping unceremoniously the sweet haze of childhood in its wake.

And Dubai seemed to be the perfect place. It was alive in motion, restless with possibility. Unfortunately, we didn't move to Dubai; instead we lived in Sharjah and did the commute. I honestly don't know if that was better or worse. After a 2 hour trip in no A/C school buses, Sharjah was a great place to come home and rest. You'd better like rest though, because there was absolutely nothing else to do. Going out to Dubai was just as impossible then as it is now, endless traffic et al. So in lieu of any other avenue for socialising, school naturally became the center of my universe.

But what a school. My old one was Islamia English in AD; the guys in terrorist training camps in Afghanistan probably have it better. It's definitely a full post in itself. The new one - St. Mary's Catholic - was loads better. Honestly, it was like Neo waking up in the cocoon and seeing the world as it was really was. Loads of new people, proper teachers, and a laid back atmosphere. It wasn't school, it was a holiday camp.

So many new faces, so many new cultures. There didn't seem to be enough hours in the day to meet people. Unlike the kids today who have all their cells and IM contacts, most of that generation has scattered all over the globe, out of reach. I do remember this one kid, though. Bjorn, his name was.

Why do I remember him? I don't rightly know. I don't even know his last name. Met him some time after I entered St.Mary's; he was one of the few Christians in our class, a Catholic. His colour suggested Indian, the facial features otherwise. Average build, average height. Average guy. Stunningly average. On occasion, I talked to him. A nice bloke, shy, inoffensive. We had the sort of conversations about nothing that occupied hours on the playground, but I'd be lying if I say I considered him a close friend. Or even an acquainance. Truthfully, I still don't know anything about the guy, except that he seemed a good chap. Boring even, but nice.

So why is he important? He isn't. None of the classmates I've run into have ever asked about him. He didn't seem to have any close friends. Just another nice guy in a sea of nice guys. About the only noteworthy thing I can remember him doing was in that same year, during one of our maths classes. We were listening to the teacher drone on about graph thingies when out of the blue, a nokia ringtone started belting out. The teacher was frozen in shock. You have to remember, it was '94. Most of the our dads didn't own mobiles yet and most of us hadn't seen one either.

Of course, it was Bjorn's. He seemed stunned, but picked up anyway. The teacher got over her surprise and marched over to this table. By this point, the class was cloaked in all enveloping silence as we waited to see what would become of him. But Bjorn just kept talking away, while the teacher waited next to his desk, steam flooding her ears. The call was from his mother, one of those 'are you okay' things. Nothing life and death. He politely finished his call and turned to face the beast.

And then the levees broke. We winced as we listened to the tirade spewing. Bjorn seemed oddly reticent, unwilling or unable to explain himself. Without fuss, he was dispatched to the Principal's office. And that was that.

A minor incident in a minor day. He was a celebrity for all of ten minutes and then life carried on. I was midly curious about why the need for a phone, but he said his mother worried about him, and this was easier than sneaking out to a payphone. His mother's a bit odd, I thought, but none of my business.

After that nothing. Three years passed and I don't think I ever spoke to him again, although I saw him around, of course. We graduated and the unity of school and social life was sundered, to be replaced with endless college application forms. I certainly wasn't thinking about Bjorn.

In 2000, I got another call from my buddy, Free Mind who went to India right after St. Mary's. All the usual pleasantries. Ten minutes of catching up. Then he asks about me about Bjorn. Do you know, he asks. Know what? Bjorn who, I reply. Bjorn, that quiet guy from school. He died last year.

Bjorn died in 1999 of liver failure. He had been having problems all through his life, which is why his mother gave him a cell phone in case he needed to call an ambulance. The doctors could do no more. When Free Mind (who didn't know him any better than me)
called his mother up, she told him, through the tears, that he was the only person who called. Didn't he have any friends, she asked. Did other boys not like him? Were you a good friend of his?

Of course, replied Free Mind. I'm sure loads of people will call, they just haven't heard about it. I'll spread the news, he offered. But no one else called, and Bjorn went into the ground in August that year, in a service attended by only his mother.

Who was Bjorn? I wish i knew. I wish I knew more - anything really - about him. Knew what man he might have become. I wish I had talked to him a little more, tried to get him to open up. Anyone can be fascinating if you find the right combination of words to unlock their personality, but I'm just as guilty as the rest of my class of not trying and being caught up in our precious adolescent world. I didn't call his mother either. What would I have said? Should have at least offered my condolences, but I was scared that his mother might ask if I was his friend. And what would I say then? Could I lie, like Free mind, to soothe a grieving mother?

There are millions of Bjorns out there. People who live and walk like shadows in this world, fading in and out of the ether. While most people are obsessed with how other people perceive them, and eventually, what their legacy will be, what becomes of people like Bjorn, who were real life invisible men? People who we ignore, call nobodies, are too busy to return calls to, bump into and never apologise. People like me remember them as wisps of memory, but that does little justice to what was once a real, living human being.

I think Bjorn must have been an atheist. No loving God would put a person on Earth to be alone.


Blogger moryarti said...

may his soul rest in peace and remembered by good friends like yourself

8:28 AM  

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