This is a translated excerpt from my current writing in the Mizo language. I go into more details in the book.
I considered him a friend, even though we didn’t talk much.
We happened to be put in the same class that was designed for foreigners to learn English. At the time it was called ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages). Also known as ESL.
A total of about 6 students, we had the class about twice a week, and we were the only guys. All my classmates I believe came as refugees – from different parts of Africa except for one other Asian (the Middle East).
The school population was half black, but you could tell he wasn’t like them. That he was straight from the heart of Africa.
He was a dark man of short stature, he didn’t have a wide frame and he wore clothes that were a size too big. He reminds me of the guy from the movie The Gods Must be Crazy.
My English grammar and comprehension were among the very best in the class while he was among the worst.
Funny moments would spring up when we had to do reading/writing exercises. They were basic so while I would finish early and read novels on the side he would struggle reading longer words. You can’t help but laugh at the creative pronunciations people come up with. One of our classmate from his country would heartily laugh in the open.
After a few months of class we became somewhat friendly towards each other. Being the only two guys in the class helped. I can’t remember our first conversation but I know it wasn’t much, we were only capable of saying short, easy sentences. Telling a long form story was a pipe dream at the time.
He had a Toshiba laptop he would sometimes bring to class, then one day while he was browsing it I noticed the sluggishness and all the ad popups which was a common symptom of the online porn virus rampant at the time. I was used to fixing computers so I brought it home with me to take a look at the problem.
There I confirmed it was indeed a case of the malicious porn virus.
When I returned it to him after spending multiple hours he was very happy. Not long after, the same thing happened, and once again I came to the rescue. This happened multiple times over the course of our friendship. Each time the root cause of the problem was the same. Porn.
One day we went to his place that was right by the school to pick it up, it was the first and last time I would enter his home. The moment I walked in I felt a different vibe, it was dark, cramped, and it had a distinct smell that I made me think it was the smell of his country. Even though I was only there for a short period I like to think it made me understand the living situation of a large refugee household living in a confined space.
I thought our home was small, but they were a lot more restricted.
That year I joined the soccer team for the very time, it was my first time playing in the States and luckily he was on the same team. I was glad to somewhat know at least one person. We were on the Junior Varsity team, the bus would take us to the field after school, and pick us up again afterward to drop us off back at the school.
A lot of our teammates would get picked up by their parents after practice, leaving only a few of us to ride back on the bus. He lived right by the school so he was practically dropped off home, and the rest would then get picked up by their parents.
It would get dark and cold by then and I had to walk home which I hated. It wasn’t the cold or the darkness that made me dislike the walk home. It was my deep insecurities at the time, to be the lone person who had to walk home while being watched by people sitting inside the comfort of their car. Poverty mindset. Based on the place I migrated from I never thought we could ever afford a car.
He would offer to walk home with me halfway, and sometimes till we met my dad who would walk from home to come and meet me.
It made me feel better to have someone with me even though we didn’t really say anything.
Many years later, one day this memory dawned upon me. I laughed at my ridiculous insecure feelings then, but it meant a lot to me at the time. I felt an immense appreciation for what he did.
I wanted to thank him.
I searched and looked him up on google, social media but I failed. I don’t even know his last name.
I realized I didn’t know his personal details at all, and remembered our silent walks in the dark.