While I was reading `A Thousand Splendid Suns' (see post of 30 June 2008), I remembered that I once had a friend who hailed from Afghanistan. I say `had' because this friend was from my growing-up years back in the early 1970's.
I was staying at a public housing area in Bukit Timah, Singapore that was called Princess Elizabeth Estate. Nice name, wouldn't you say? A background story about this estate and how it got its name can be read from a posting in the blog Good Morning Yesterday.
Anyway, our family lived in a rented unit within a block of single-storey dwellings containing 10 one-bedroom houses. In front of our block was a small field where my friends and I played football and sometimes `rounders', depending on the particular `season'. To those of you who are wondering, rounders is a bat-and-ball game not dissimilar to baseball. Most of the time we played football of course, but rounders was also popular because the neighbourhood girls could join in the fun too.
One afternoon while playing football, I noticed a scruffy-looking boy standing at the edge of the field watching us play. He looked different - he's not a Malay, an Indian, a Chinese or even Eurasian (yes, I had multi-racial friends). His skin was a different tone of brown and his hair had the colour of rust.
One of us asked if he would like to join the game and he said yes. After the game, I asked if he was from Pakistan. `Bukan (No),' he replied, in peculiar-sounding Malay. `Dari (From) Afghanistan.'
And so that day we became friends with an Afghan boy whose name is Faisal Khan. He told us that he just moved to the area and was staying with his uncle who ran a `sarbat' stall at one of the factory lots nearby. Faisal was two or three years younger than me but he had a sturdy build and was big for his age. Initially it was difficult to understand what he said but after some time mixing with us, his Malay improved. His uncle enrolled him to the same primary school that I went to. Sometimes after school, we would walk home together and he would stop by my house to share lunch with us. I remember my mother saying, `Poor child, so young to be living away from your mother...'
Faisal was understandably not too bright at school but he was friendly and helpful. He wasn't terribly good at football but if he played in my team, I would assign him to play defence. I told him that if he could not properly tackle the opposing strikers, just bulldoze them. Use your size to intimidate, I said. Even at that young age, I was already a master tactician, *grin*.
My friendship with Faisal did not last long. His uncle's `sarbat' stall and the makeshift hut that they were staying in had to make way for development. I heard that his uncle shifted his business to a hawker centre at a new housing estate but I didn't know where.
And so after more than 30 years, I'm being reminded of a childhood friend from a land so far away. To my friend Faisal Khan, may Allah bless and watch over you, wherever you are.
Footnote : I was going through some old B&W photographs last Sunday to look for a suitable pic of Princess Elizabeth Estate. The above photo is of my younger brother taken circa 1970. In the background is a typical single-storey block of houses.