I looked at my son getting ready for his school function. I took my glasses blew hot air and wiped them clean. My wife was putting on him the blazer we bought for him for the special occasion. She looked at me and gave me a smile. I smiled back. Memories of my school days came flooding. I had a very tough childhood. I was different from the other children in the school. When everyone preferred to play baseball I spent time painting, when everyone spent time playing pranks on each other I spent time painting, when everyone else was doing something other than painting, I spent time painting.
I talked less, wore a thick glass and had a stupid grin (at least that’s what my schoolmates (if I can call them mates) used to say). With that kind of description I was the target for everyone to vent out their frustration on someone stronger than them. I have been beaten countless times in the name of fun. They always made an ass out of me and laughed their guts out. When things were going beyond control, I met my friend Joe.
The day I met him I was in the class painting. When I looked up from what I was painting I saw the gang of four coming inside the class room. To tell you more on the gang of four they were the most fearsome gang among the gangs in the school. They never missed any opportunity they got with a weak guy like me to prove their strength. Within few minutes I was lying on the floor with my painting torn to pieces. Nobody complains about these guys as they are less vicious when we don’t complain.
I gathered my specs and wore it. I collected the torn pieces of my painting and put them in the dustbin and came back to my seat to find a guy sitting there. The place next to me had remained always vacant except for now. He looked at me and smiled. I was still in shock and took the seat besides him. "Who could be this guy? Another tormentor?"
"I am Joe" he said.
I looked at him hesitantly. His hands were stretched out for a shake. I took his hand hesitantly and introduced myself. His hand was warm. The moment I grabbed it I felt amazing warmth surrounding me. I forgot about the gang of four. He told me that he had just joined the class and is looking forward to be part of it. I never knew he will become more than a friend to me at that time.
At a time when everybody rejected me in my class Joe stuck on to me. I noticed that people rejected Joe also. I never saw Joe talking to someone else other than me. I assumed may be people hated him because he was friends with me. From then on we hung around together always. He liked my paintings and he talked a lot about painting. The taunting from others still went on but I was not alone, there was Joe for me to comfort me. I never felt miserable after I met Joe. In someway after seeing the confidence in Joe I expected him to thrash those who taunted us but he remained silent and never raised a voice at them. I assumed he must be a frightened little kid as I was inside but who cared, a company was what I needed.
As we moved up the ladder of school life our friendship became stronger. I concentrated more on painting than on studies. Joe encouraged me a lot which led me to participate in competitions where my works were recognized. He was there always for me. I never saw his parents. He said he lived with them beyond the river and his dad was a multimillionaire. I took him once to my home but he insisted on not meeting my parents.
"Shall we go?" my wife's voice brought me back to this world.
"Yes we can" I got up.
I held out a finger for my son to hold on and we three got into the car. My wife drove it as I drifted back into those memories.
When our friendship was at its peak, my dad got transferred. I was supposed to be put in a new school at the new place. The moment when I had to say good bye to Joe was the most painful moment for me. I was very sure I won’t get another Joe, wherever I go. Joe was in tears too. We sat at the desk where we first met. I held onto his hand.
"Joe, I don’t want to go but I have no choice"
"I understand and I will miss you too" he said.
I took my glasses off and wiped my tears.
"Don’t forget me Joe" I continued with trembling voice "Once I become big I will come back here and we will remain as friends forever"
"I will be waiting for you my friend" he said.
"I want to send you mails can I have your address?"
He scribbled something on a paper and gave it to me.
I walked back home with a heavy heart.
We moved to a new place and the first thing I did was to send a letter to him. Everyday I used to wait for his reply but nothing came. Years passed. I started my career as an artist and became successful. Joe was there always in my mind. When I planned to go back to my place to meet him I noticed that I had lost the address he gave me. My attempts in tracking him by enquiring the school management also was futile as I was informed by the school management that they lost most of their records in a fire accident.
So Joe was there only in my mind. I wished he would see my face in newspapers and will contact me but nothing of that sort happened. Slowly the number of times I thought about him reduced. After marriage we decided to move to our old place which was my wife's place as well. When the question about my son's schooling came, my wife immediately suggested the school where I had my education. Though the past memories of harassments haunted me I dismissed them as unnecessary fears. Who knows my son might find his own Joe.
I got down from the car with our son and my wife joined us after parking the car. We three entered the auditorium along with other people. The programs began and it was fun. Our son was playing a role in one of the programs so he left us. I remembered watching programs when I was young in the same auditorium with Joe besides me. I felt nostalgic. I informed wife about visiting the restroom and came out of the auditorium.
The school brought back more memories from the past. I wished Joe was there. I walked along the empty corridors. I peeked inside the classrooms, at the empty desks. I came to the classroom where I first met Joe. My heart started to beat frantically. I laughed at my anxiety and walked towards the room.
I could see the door to the room was open and heard footsteps inside the room. I heard someone falling and kids laughing. I froze as I stared inside the class room. There was a kid with the make up of an angel and few kids around him were kicking him and making fun of him. The kid on the floor had his face pressed on to the floor. I rushed inside to help the kid. When I saw that one of the kids who was mocking the kid on the floor was my son I was filled with mixed emotions of anger, pain, disappointment.
I heard more footsteps behind me and one of the tutors entered and whisked away all the kids except the one on the floor away saying it was time for their play.
I lifted him up.
"Are you ok kid?"
He nodded he was ok. I was surprised to see that he was not crying. Infact he was cheerful. I was ashamed my son was among those who harassed this kid.
"Good. Come let's go to the auditorium"
"I will come with my friend" he said.
"All your friends must be there at auditorium"
"I have only one friend and he is here with me"
"Where?" I looked around but found no one.
"He is there" he pointed to the desk where I met Joe the first time.
My mind was doing some wild calculations. I needed only one answer to prove my calculations were right.
"What's your friend’s name?"
"Joe" he said.