I always try to call home once a day when I am away these days, even though the conversation could be somewhat inane at times through lack of an agenda, for I have never been good with the telephone all these years. The good news is that Rosita understands. Indeed, at the Reunion of the Class of 2000 last week, an Action President reminded me that I had not improved in this area. Not a bit. Well, maybe I never would, but then maybe I could start somewhere.
But this is not the subject of my discussion. It is something more difficult and something sad, very sad. I was in Japan in the past few days. Now, our normal mobile phones do not work in Japan, so that I had to use special hardware. By five o’clock on Saturday, I was through with my programme and I called home. As I was about to hang up, Rosita said she had some bad news for me, which she would rather keep till I came home. But when I pressed on, she gave it to me on the phone. A very good friend of nearly 45 years had died, in Canada. In April 2001, he told me he had a cancerous tumour removed from a tip of his pancreas a month earlier and that the operation was very successful. On medical advice, he then underwent chemotherapy and became well enough to travel. We met last summer when he came back on his way to visit the Mainland. He was in high spirits though he looked somewhat thinner than before. We exchanged emails for a while, but then it all went a bit quiet. Some of my letters to him were sent back and so on. The news therefore came as a bit of shock. I was unprepared. To make a bad situation worse, his wife had just come back to Hong Kong to see her mother who was very ill. She received news from their son that his conditions had suddenly gone very bad and she had to curtail her stay here. Very sadly, her son called again to say he had gone when she was about to board the flight back to Canada. The son had also called me and left a message on my phone, which I picked up when I got back. I was stultified.
We were very close in the Forms. We studied together, played together, had lunch together and so on. I lost count of the number of movies we saw together. Our family members knew each other. He went to all the weddings of my siblings and was blamed for losing the guest register after one such wedding. He rolled it up inside a fancy gift paper, but by the time we got home, he could only deliver the wrapper. We had a great laugh and we had been talking about that for many years. He visited my parents at festivals and I visited his every year until he emigrated to Canada. Once more, feelings of lost and found surfaced. I was wondering why I did not get a reminder about my birthday from him last month, for he always did. Now I know: he must be very ill, and possibly suffering from regular pains.
This is really a very good friend, and certainly one that would meet the corpse at midnight criterion. Looking back though, neither of us had asked the other for any special favours even though we both knew that they would be given without questions. Nor had we ever told each other how much we valued each other, or seen the need to so do. Perhaps that fits well my friendship theory that friends should be comfortable with each other all the time and that unusual or landmark events need not necessarily exist to qualify or sustain the relationship. One does not go around life seeking cheap emotional thrills from friends.
My young friend told me that one of his friends had told him that he would never read a book twice regardless of how great the author or the book might be on grounds that there were so many great books and great authors around and so little time on his hands. In response, I played the devil’s advocate likening each book to an individual as in Fahrenheit 451 and suggested that since there were more than six billion individuals in the world, his friend might find it inappropriate to talk to the same person twice. I could probably never find another individual similar to my just lost friend, which simply underlines the importance we must attach to every relationship.
I watched “A Beautiful Mind” a second time on my way back, quite unplanned. I do not know how many friends the real John Nash has kept and for how long, but the relationship with Alicia as presented and highly dramatized would probably be more than he or anyone can bargain for in life and inadequately described in his acceptance speech, where perhaps through Ron Howard, Nash said he had found true logic and reasoning through love, having gone into the physical, metaphysical and illusionary. I ended up terrified, horrified, petrified and stupefied as Nash.
In a short while, the world would witness and embrace the birth of a new nation, with great expectations. Too bad my friend could not do that.