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Shanky and I had an argument today. In the ten or so years of our friendship, it’s the first argument I recall we’ve had.

We aren’t exactly best friends, but bound by the convenience of proximity. He lives three doors down to my house, and we attended the same kindergarten school. I don’t remember when exactly we became friends, but our moms told us we loved the red plastic slide in the playground. Apparently, that is what we bonded over.

Now that I think about it, I can’t recall how I became friends with any member of The Four Boys Club (some even call us the Quartet of Mayhem). Nor can I remember who, after Shanky, I met first: Mompy or Anpag.

I wouldn’t hold Shanky’s outrage towards me against him. Maybe he was right. Mompy certainly believes so; but he, Mompy, was careful to not say that I was out of line.

Shanky’s father, who we called The Chill Dad, died yesterday. Kidney failure.

Why did we give Shanky’s dad the title of The Chill Dad? Because he was; maybe even to the point of being indifferent, Anpag once remarked. When we asked Shanky how does his father afford running the air conditioner on all day, he said, “My dad doesn’t care.” When Shanky flunked Math in class 6 and we asked if Shanky got a scolding from his father, he said, “My dad doesn’t care.” When Shanky spent the entire day at my place, watching India play the test match against Australia because the TV didn’t work at his house, and my mum asked him if his dad wouldn’t be worried about where he was, he said, “My dad doesn’t care.”

I learned about The Chill Dad’s demise through my mum. His health had deteriorated suddenly in the evening. Shanky, his two young sisters and his mother (a doctor herself) rushed The Chill Dad to the hospital; but it was too late.

I waited till the evening of the next day to go to Shanky’s house. Insensitive of me, you would say. I was reluctant. I couldn’t understand what I would say to him; consoling has never come naturally to me. But, on my mum’s insistence, I went.

His house has a massive veranda, large enough that we could play cricket. Despite the cold – the temperature had dropped below 5 degrees Celsius for the first time that season – Shanky was sitting in the open. Mompy, who we considered the glue that held the group together, sat next to him, one hand on Shanky’s shoulder.

I gingerly entered the gate to Shanky’s house. Walking over to Shanky, I sat next to him. His eyes were on the floor.

“I’ll just come,” Mompy said, and started to get up. Vapour blew out of his mouth. He pulled his jacket close, zipping it up.

“You’re going?” I asked Mompy, more out of fear of being left alone with Shanky. The two of us, Shanky and I, had had almost a decade-long friendship, but being around him right now filled me with a sense of dread.

“Yeah, I’ll just be back,” Mompy said. I think he read what I really intended to mean.

I moved around in my chair, wondering what I should say.

And it was in that moment of indecisiveness, which has led to many terrible decisions of my life, when I uttered what I’m not entirely sure was wrong. I had sat back in the seat, looking into the sky. The evening was foggy. Just under the streetlights, I could see the mist floating in waves. Part of this enchanting vista was certainly city pollution, but the sight was beautiful.

“At least he died on a beautiful day,” I said, looking into the dense cloud of fog.

The statement was a matter-of-fact proclamation, with no ill-intent, or anything close to it, in it.

Did I hear the hammer coming down, though?

No, I didn’t.

“What?” Shanky said. “Did you just say that?”

I looked at him; and past him, at Mompy, standing on the doorway and shaking his head.

Shanky got up and stormed inside. I saw him wiping his face with the sleeve of his sweater. Mompy motioned for me to go after Shanky. As I passed him, Mompy said, “Apologise, okay?”

Inside, I saw Shanky’s mom and sister sitting on the floor. Shanky’s mom saw me enter, said, “Bandem, is that you?” and her hand went back to her head. His sister, who had her head on her mother’s shoulder, didn’t move.

I went deeper into the house. Shanky was sitting on his bed, bent at his waist, a pillow between his knees and his face. He was crying. I stood in the doorway, and said I was sorry. “Go away,” he said. Softly at first; but, when I didn’t, louder and more angrily. “GET OUT!”

He went on to say things I never expected him to. There were harsh expletives hurled, which was okay with me. But what pushed me over the edge was when he said, “Let’s see how you react when your dad…” Even though he was mindful to not complete the sentence, I knew what he meant.

The next fifteen minutes saw us having our first ever argument. We both screamed at each other, and almost none of what we said was within the bounds of reason. He said what he did out of grief, and I did because he had taken a dig at my ego.

We didn’t speak to one another for a month; the only blemish in the decade-old friendship. A month later, as I was walking past his house, I saw him playing catch with a tennis ball, and asked if I could join. He looked at me – an expression of longing on his face – and said, “Yeah, okay.”

So, I did.

At the end of that one hour we threw the ball between ourselves, the friendship both of us thought we had lost had mended.

Well, pretty much.

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