The friends we never get to meet
Friendships are forged in different places. In schools, colleges, offices, trains, neighbourhoods, et al. They are forged for different reasons too. To inspire, for love, to survive, for convenience, et al. Also, it’s said that over the years most friendships become circumstantial. However, irrespective of how you become friends, there remains one constant. Each time you introduce one friend to the other, you are asked — ‘So, how did you two meet?’ Two weeks ago, I visited my friend for 14 years now. ‘Her’ friends asked us the same. So, we narrated the tale of how we connected on the first day of the university, ‘Orientation, can you imagine?’ we smiled. It was a long time ago.
As I sat there, I began to think — What about the friends we never get to meet? I’d like to tell their stories too. It only helped when last week, a colleague mentioned speaking to a friend, each morning. ‘We’ve known each other for a year and a half, but have never met,’ he said. We got talking about friendships and its strange ways. And I found myself further questioning the physicality of the friendship — What if our paths were to never cross in the physical world?
‘Will that be okay?’ I asked Fiona Cochrane on the messenger. She lives in the UK. We started off as virtual writing partners in NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month), three years ago. Soon enough, we were discussing more than our story plots and encouraging each other beyond meeting word counts. I learnt about her love for walking and of course, tea. We exchanged e-mails, many. But it was only last year that we spoke and saw each other, for the first time on a video chat. “One day, when my book becomes a bestseller, I’ll come to Dubai on a book tour!” she’d smiled on the call. She’s now the author of Sikelele Mama, a book set in the South Africa of 1970s. I am now the author of The Trees Told Me So, a series of short stories set in India.
Yes, ours, like many other friendships is a strange one. Hugs and high-fives will never define it. Voice notes and video calls will. I’ll never get to taste her special meals. I was not outside the operation theatre when she underwent surgery. I was at my home, praying for her quick recovery. We don’t message each other, every day or week, either. Yet, we stay connected. Of course, technology helps such friendships survive. We ship each other goodies and giggle like little girls when they get delivered.
On days like this, I think to myself maybe the ‘one day’ will never come, even if we’re just a flight away. We both know that. But, I guess I can live with that. For, she still happens to be the one I write to, immediately, when I have something to share, good or bad. Likewise, there are many other friends, who I met in this city. They now live elsewhere, with little chance of us meeting again. Maybe, this strange separation is the hallmark of such friendships. Perhaps, just like we don’t meet people by accident, it’s true the other way round too. As someone may joke, ‘These are our low-maintenance friends!’
I surely love these unconventional friends. We don’t have real back-stories to share. We’ve not shared each other’s clothes or eyed the last slice of pizza in the box. Yet, we continue to share this life.
As Fiona wrote to me on the messenger, “I would hate to never meet you. I keep thinking that one day it will happen, but real life does get in the way, and it might not happen. But, there is a little bit of me that feels like we have met, even if we haven't been able to give each other a huge hug. I know you, you know me. We've helped each other and made each other laugh. But, I have faith that someday, somewhere and somehow, we will meet, sit and drink tea and talk until the cows come home.”
One day. Until then, I embrace this strange friendship.
This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.