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“Mompy?” Bandem called. 

He was walking by Mompy’s building, on his way to the market. A little alley cut from the row of houses on this side of the colony, leading out of the neighbourhood, passing through a couple of blocks, and finally opening into the market. Bandem heard what he thought was Mompy’s familiar voice; except that, in the time since he had last seen his friend, the voice had developed a note of what he would have described was slushiness to it. Craning his neck to the source of the sound, he saw Mompy; standing on his first floor balcony. 

Speaking to someone over the phone, Mompy, who had put on a few kilos since Bandem last saw him five years previously, perhaps didn’t listen to Bandem’s call. Mompy was gesturing excitedly, a cigarette stuck between two fingers in his hand. This habit of Mompy’s, which only his father knew about (thereby giving him the title of The Cool Dad) until he turned 18, was now common knowledge. Even though his mother disliked it, Mompy could now smoke freely.

Maybe Bandem should have called out again. But he didn’t. A voice in him, the strange, unbased reluctance, stopped him. He knew neither the source nor the cause of the reluctance. And, that evening as he pondered back, he persuaded himself that not calling out again was for the better. The two hadn’t spoken to each other for a long time, barring some arbitrary comments on each other’s posts on Facebook. 

And so, he continued walking. As he passed the house, someone moving in the backyard caught his attention. He turned, saw The Cool Dad – whose hair were greyer and waist had gained a few more inches – and then his eyes fell on the treehouse. It hadn’t been taken down; and Bandem wondered if Mompy still hung out there. With Anpag and Shanky, perhaps? A stab of grief, stemming from the possibility that he had been cut away from the group, pierced him. 

Memories of years gone past rushed in his mind in a strong current. All the time the four of them spent in that treehouse, shooting the shit, reading comics, smoking secretly… and that incident with the not-so-dead man. 

And… Midhali. He let his mind dwell on her. Despite that stab of grief he’d felt not a few seconds ago, he didn’t know if he felt guilty not keeping in touch with his childhood friends. Even if he did, he must have dismissed the thought outright. But, standing outside Mompy’s house watching that treehouse, he did wonder why he’d never initiated contact with Midhali in the last five years; for that, he did feel guilty. He made a mental note that he would message her on Facebook later. 

But, throughout his ten-day break, he wouldn’t. 

As he reached the turn to enter the alley that further up led to the market, Mompy, who indeed was on the phone and speaking to Midhali and hadn’t heard Bandem when the latter had called, saw Bandem. Even his, Mompy’s, first instinct was to call out to Bandem. But he didn’t; maybe it was the same hesitation that had afflicted Bandem, of how too much time had passed and now there was little room for them in each other’s lives, or maybe it was… something else entirely. 

Either way, Mompy didn’t think too much into it. He had had an exhausting year at work, and he didn’t want to be made to feel awkward while he was home; even though he had moved to the south of the country for college, and had been there ever since, the city was always going to be his first and maybe the only home. 

He did think to mention to Midhali, who still lived in the same house in the same colony, that he just saw Bandem. But, that too, he didn’t. Incidentally, Mompy and Midhali would get married in the next couple of years. She would move in with him. The two would miss the city dearly; would even think in the next ten years to return to the city for good, but for reasons they couldn’t understand themselves they kept putting it off forever.


Bandem and Mompy would see each other maybe once more in that week the two were back home. Mompy, having had his fill of a work break, had to reluctantly head back to what he called his second home. He was hungover from the frolic of the last week; and never had he felt so strongly about wanting to write to his boss that he was quitting than he did on the day of his departure. And no matter that the last of his security clearance would be withheld if he didn’t serve his notice. In that moment, money became but a minute consideration in the grand scheme of things.

The Cool Dad and Midhali – by this time, all of Mompy’s extended family knew about their relationship – drove him to the airport. Waving him goodbye at the terminal, Midhali shed a tear. Over the last few days, she had started feeling increasingly insecure about her relationship with Mompy. Just like Bandem’s reluctance at calling out to Mompy, Midhali’s insecurity had neither a source nor a cause; or perhaps she was wilfully ignoring it. She didn’t tell Mompy about these feelings for reasons she would never want to think about.

Bandem was to leave a couple of days after Mompy’s departure. Standing on his balcony, Bandem saw Mompy bidding goodbye to his family. He, his father and his girlfriend then sat in the car; The Cool Dad on the driver seat, Mompy next to him on the passenger seat and Midhali at the back. Even with three houses separating his and Mompy’s, Bandem could see moistness in Midhali’s eyes. He felt a tug of what he thought was sorrow for Midhali, but in actuality was longing; a longing to be, both physically and emotionally, where Mompy was. 

A thought, disgusting and abominable, invaded his mind. The fact that he allowed it to enter his consciousness was despicable in itself, but it was here. And there was little he could do about it.  

Why don’t you make a move on Midhali now? a little voice at the back of his mind spoke up. He was obviously shocked at that thought; even more so that it was he himself, and not an outsider, who had suggested it. 

He wasn’t alien to his own affection for Midhali. Even after five years since he had last seen her – discounting pictures of her and Mompy and Facebook – he still had feelings for her. And maybe, just maybe, seeing her in this little break had strengthened those feelings even more. 

But was he going to… what had that voice said? Make a move on Midhali? The thought sickened him. He sickened himself.

Of course, later that day, he would find himself controlling the urge – because urge is exactly what it was – to visit her house. Catch up, like old times. Reforge the friendship that time had buried, almost decomposed, under its weight. But was that really what he wanted? Was that just what he wanted? 

That same voice crept up in his consciousness again, startling him with its re-arrival. Stop going around in circles. You want to be with her; and not just as a friend. And when Bandem didn’t thwart that voice, possibly because he secretly wanted it to keep going, he liked what it was saying, it continued. You envy Mompy. That’s the by and by of it. Always have, and… you know what? Unless you move over her, which I don’t think you will considering moving on has never come naturally to you, you never will. You’ll pine over her. And that will affect any and all relationships you…

Bandem knew where this voice was going. He didn’t need to hear the end of it to know that. 

But that voice did prove to be right. Bandem never really got over Midhali; or what could have been had he… Had he what? He couldn’t answer that question; didn’t have anything to answer that question with. 

And, so, when he was invited to Mompy’s wedding a couple of years later, Bandem chose not to go. Mompy wasn’t too keen on inviting Bandem; had even told Midhali he wouldn’t. Midhali, the more level headed and rational in the couple, urged Mompy to. 

It’s tough to say whether Bandem’s absenteeism went unnoticed – or even undiscovered. 

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