Money, Money, Money, Maány!

Ah, the past. A slosh of memories making up the events and moments of our lives which, for some reason, choose to stick in our heads or vanish completely. Some of us have a knack for recalling the details of the most significant times of our lives, while others are better at remembering the lyrics of a song after only hearing it once.

I’ve always had a bad memory when it comes to street names, people’s names, titles of movies and books and numbers. I never forget a face though. I’ve always prided myself in remembering the inconsequential details, the atmospheric particulars of certain circumstances that generally are of no use to anyone. I also often remember, quite clearly, the sequence of a conversation that might have happened last week, a year ago or even ten years ago. So, I was recently stumped when that one part of my memory let me down, placing me in an awkward position until the sound of loud, cracking chewing made it all come back.

Rewind to 2001
Back when Nokia phones were all the rage, Nelly and Ashanti were huge and the first Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings films were released in the cinema, I was in my last year of High School. I had shoulder length dreads, was reading all about Émile Zola, was obsessed with the work of Egon Schile and found style inspiration in the way elderly men dressed. Red cardigans, white polo shirts, brown trousers with fine orange lines that I bought from thrift shops along with the latest Stan Smiths Adidas shoes. I had a whole 90s Basquiat influenced hipster thing going on. If that wasn’t a clear enough picture for you, let me just say, I thought incredibly highly of myself.

At the time I also had a close friend . . . let’s call her Claire. She found me hilarious and I found her witty and almost as obsessed with reading as I was. We were each others wing people at parties, had similar goals with our grades, made great study partners and felt nothing but a genuine friendship for one another. No chemistry to make things awkward basically. Then something happened that swiftly severed our friendship. I know you’re going to ask me what happened, but I can’t tell you . . . I don’t remember.

I have no idea what, when and why it all happened but what stuck with me is this. For someone who wasn’t particularly dramatic, I was so incensed by the whole incident that I cut Claire completely out of my life.

A year later in Art School, I chopped off the dreads, was reading everything I could about the life of Dave Barry, listened to a lot of George Wassouf and Freddie Mercury and dressed more like an 80’s rich kid than a 90’s hipster. Also, Facebook had exploded all over the Internet. I used it tentatively at first, accepting and connecting with friends from childhood and relatives who lived abroad. Then I got a friend request from Claire. The issue, which at that time I must have still recalled, was still fresh in my mind and I was unsure what to do.

I, along with the rest of the world, was still coming to grips with what it meant to be connected to someone online that you weren’t particularly friendly with in real life. I decided not to reject the request but I didn’t accept it either. I left her pending – for eleven years.

Eleven Years Later
I didn’t do it on purpose. It just happened that eleven years passed and I forgot about the pending request. OK I’ll admit that every now and then, like any bored Facebook user, when the mood took me, I stalked people I used to know. Don’t judge me. We all do it. And if you don’t, then there is something seriously wrong with you.

Anyway, I eventually came across a photo of Claire with some ancient mutual friend of ours and I remembered, ‘oh yeah, I think she friend requested me once.’ At this point I completely forgot that we’d had, what must have been, a dramatic falling out. I had a little look around at her Facebook page, which she left public, and found that Claire had travelled the world teaching English as a foreign language. She had loads of friends and seemed to be enjoying her life. That’s nice I thought. Then I saw that she’d sent me a few messages in that other inbox folder on Facebook, asking me how I was. I looked at her pending request and thought, how weird . . . why didn’t I accept her? So I did.

A few days later I received a message from her asking how I was and what I had been up to. We exchanged a few messages, pleasant and animated. She even invited me to her brother’s wedding in London and although I couldn’t make it, I thought it was nice of her to ask. We exchanged numbers and started to message instantly and continuously over the next few days, reminiscing over high school memories. Then, Clair apologized… for what, I wasn’t sure.

‘I just want to say sorry for the whole thing. I was so sad. I thought about it for so long and I always felt bad. I’m so sorry I wish it had come out different and I’m so glad we are talking again. I’ve missed you loads!’

I was hoping Claire would elaborate. I needed a clue. I read the message a few more times, trying to pull out from the back of my mind remnants I could stitch together on what actually transpired between us. I was left scratching my head wondering why she felt so bad and I had completely forgotten the incident. Of course, not wanting to seem insensitive, the situation whatever it was, had obviously affected her greatly and left me . . . forgetful. So I did what I thought was a very gentlemanly thing to do.

‘Claire please, that was a million years ago, water under the bridge, let’s forget about it, no need to bring it up at all!’

‘That means so much, thanks.’

Modern Day Present
We stayed in touch over the next few years as much as two people who were once close for a short period of time but lived in different parts of the world could. Then one day I got a message,

‘I’m passing through Dubai – We have to meet up!’

‘Sure!’

I met Claire at a bar close to the hotel she was staying in and we exchanged a hearty hug when we spotted each other. It’s was, in all honestly, a great catch up with an old friend. We talked about people we knew, what they were up to these days, how our careers were going, plans for travels etc. At one point were in stiches recalling an incident where we skipped school with a few other friends only to be caught by one of the teachers at a McDonalds down the road. I, not wanting to get caught, decided to run and get into a random car telling the surprised driver to act cool until the man in the pink tie walked by. I got caught anyway.

During our conversation, the bartender placed a bowl of peanuts in front of Claire. I was hungry so I took around four salted peanuts and ate them while she was talking. I noticed though that Claire watched my hand stretch over and grab the peanuts. In fact, she paused midsentence and watched me do that. It left an impression on me . . . I noted it in my head. When the bartender walked by us again, Claire asked for two more bowls of peanuts as she’d finished the ones in the bowl in front of her.

‘Listen Maán, I just want to say I’m really sorry about what happened. I’m so glad we moved on from everything.’

The bartender placed a bowl of peanuts in front of her and another one in front of me.

‘It’s fine, really, it was so long ago, I –’

Then, Claire stretched her hand over to my bowl of peanuts, took four from my bowl and smiled as she put them in her mouth, chewing as she always chewed anything from peanuts, burgers, fries or the end of her pencil. Loud and obnoxiously.

It was like a scene from a movie where one little word or sound, sent a barrage of flashing images through your head. It all became clear then and I remembered why we fell out.

Flashback 2001
I was back in my shitty, army green coloured, two-door civic that had a dent in one of the doors from the time I smacked into a lamppost and a number plate that, by some bizarre coincidence, spelt out the word ‘spew’ in Arabic.

We had been at a study group and I was dropping Claire off when we decided to get Burger King on the way home. Being on the driver’s side I was the person dealing with the waiter in the drive through. I ordered two combos, one must have been a Whopper the other a Chicken Whopper. I was starving and so when the waiter handed me the first takeaway bag and there were French fries poking out of the top, I helped myself, grabbed three French fries, ate them and placed the takeaway bag on my lap. The waiter handed me another bag and the drinks, which I then handed to Claire.

As was customary, we pulled up into the car park under one of the lampposts to eat and have a de brief on the study group. The point of discussion wasn’t so much English Literature but whether or not our host, Renee Taylor was into the Dutch exchange student who sounded like a robot and was obsessed with making charts planning every little bit of our time, including toilet breaks. As we were sorting out which takeaway bag had what, we realized that the takeaway bag I kept on my lap, was actually Claire’s Whopper combo and the one she had contained my Chicken Whopper combo. When we exchanged meals, Claire reached over and picked out three fries from my bag. I  gave her a funny, questioning look.

‘Only fair,’ she said in all seriousness as she shoved the fries in her mouth, ‘you took three from my combo.’

‘Are you serious?’ I said.

‘Yeah,’ she said smacking her tongue against the roof of her mouth as she ate, ‘it’s really rude when people eat your food, don’t you reckon?’

‘Are you saying I’m rude?’

‘Well, you ate from my fries,’ she said, ‘and the other day you also ate from my fries.’

It’s safe to say I lost it. What I’d forgotten since that fateful night at the Burger King car park, was that Claire had always been stingy. For example, when she offered you chips from her bag she’d tighten her grip on your hand as you went into the packet to ensure you took out the minimum amount. When she offered to drop you off home after a party or after school, she would drop you off on the top of your street and not in front of your house – even if it was raining. When she offered you a bit of her Kit Kat (no innuendo intended) she didn’t break off a stick, she broke off half a stick and then would quickly scoff down the rest so you wouldn’t ask for more. I on the other hand often share my food, time and petrol generously with friends.

What made matters worse is that she was only stingy when it came to herself. Claire was very happy and confident to ask people for a bit of their burger, half of their chocolate bar, a lift to places that were out of the way but was never willing to reciprocate the favour. Her requests often boggled my mind and I guess her behaviour had accumulated over the last year and come to a climax there in the car. I’d had enough of dealing with a full year of stingy, George Costanza-ish, tight fisted, penny pinching, ridiculousness that on top of everything else was used as excuse for my apparent rudeness.

Really harsh words were exchanged in the car. I think she accused me of being dumb and I told her that she should hook up with the Dutch robot guy since she was so obsessed with rationing food he can make her a chart of who owed her fries and bread crumbs. Yup, real low bows. We left it there and at school the following week, Claire had spread around to our mutual friends that I was rude and might have some anger issues. I never retaliated by spreading around that she was stingy to everyone (I think most people knew to be fair) nor did I resort to name calling in the petty passive aggressive manner she did. I really didn’t care after that. Obviously if  a year or two later I’d forgotten the whole incident.

Sitting now at the hotel, eleven years later, I was shocked to see that she hadn’t changed. It would have been tempting to say something to her but I maybe I’d grown up and my “temper” was more in check. Sequels are never successful anyway. So I left the bowl of peanuts, kept up the small talk and told her when we walked out of the bar,

‘It was good seeing you Claire, you haven’t changed a bit either.’

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