On an oddly warm June evening, for the first time I was asked by a younger boy if I would go out with him.
I saw him for the first time at a basketball court. A small and slender build dribbling along in a loose Keith Haring t-shirt caught my eye as he swiped his wet forehead, again and again for a few times. His hair was a bit too long in the front, made me wondered why he didn’t keep it short. The 4 pm sun was the hardest coach. It was hot and cruel, silently punishing every move he made. He was good despite being too busy with his hair. He found a rhythm with his bounce and dribbling, dunked, then smiled at me – a stranger on a bench.
It was an ordinary court you can find at any campus, although it was not the campus I had spent my years studying. It was one of those days of my final year with nothing much to do, so I hung out with friends from other universities. I was helping an old friend from my highschool with a video project and by afternoon we would come around the court to chill and laze around. As our visit became routine, a guy from the basketball group came by and asked if we’d like to grab a dinner together. Of course I only realized that afterwards, though, that he was my reason for coming.
He was 18, three years my junior and was in his fresh year because he had changed his study before finally decided to pursue his bachelor in economics. We grew closer by the days. We would sit on the tree-sheltered side of the benches while listening to some old school rap – Wutang Clan and sometimes Run DMC. He only had one canvas satchel and was saving up for a pair of Jordan. We always went for frugal dates, never a fancy one. There were lots of fun and surprises, though, in that 300 hectares university complex. He would take me on a ride with the university’s yellow shuttle bus to some place – from an underground “club” in a tunnel ruin to illegal dumping ground, and we never came home broke.
Never had I expected the surprise to catch me on a death grip.
On one cold November morning, his body was found at a small marshland between the university complex and the student dormitories. It was a small pathway the students used to pass as a shortcut to their dorms. He was stabbed 9 times for defending a female student from a rapist. The girl succeed to flee and reported to the train staff, but it was too late.
The news reached me when I was staying at my friend’s dorm after spending the whole day for the final editing. We were only 200 meters apart. I wondered why did he go to the court that evening. Why wasn’t I around. A strange emotional tailspin sucked me in. It was almost like a free-fall, only with an unceasing, pervasive sense of confusion.
I thought about how he died, not old and sick, with no family on his side. He was alone, and last seen by a stranger. A stranger whose life he had saved, while another stranger caused him death. Saved? What was he thinking when he “saved” the girl? Was it intuitive, subliminal, or just bravado? All I knew that he always wanted simplest of things. He only wanted to run, jump and dunk in the court. He couldn’t be a hero. He shouldn’t be a hero for anybody.
I didn’t cry at his funeral. Some people patted my shoulder, hugged me, glanced at me, talked softly on my back. His stewardess mom smiled at me. She looked so much like him. And somehow, that day I learned that grieving was selfish. Praying for someone alone was selfish. Staring at the ground, I heard some words muttered by some elderly man, that we should rejoice his life, the kind one with daring and spirit and joy. I didn’t mourn for what I have lost, but for what he has lost.
And once again here I was at the tree-sheltered side of the benches. Staring at the concrete and then half waked to reality where I would not hear the sound of a basketball hitting the ground. Nor his childlike nature, cheers and warmth. I thought if I came here, I could remember the day we met, or the day we laughed so hard because he couldn’t lace his new Jordans. It was near the end of my final presentation and I numbly tried to coerce and throw myself into finishing my finals. I might not come back here just to be another part of the scenery.