I am Jim.
There are 8 people in this group. We have exchanged over 50,000 messages since its inception. As of yet, not a single one has been from him. Who is he? Why doesn’t he speak? Does he feel intimidated by us? That couldn’t possibly be true. All of us have known each other for years now. I have personally known him for 11 years, 11 amazing years! Do I know him? You bet I do! He’s your every man. He knows everyone and everyone knows who he is. A variety of interests gives him common ground over which he can connect with people. You could say he’s popular, that wouldn’t entirely be untrue. He isn’t really into the competitive socializing scene though. However, he’s liked by all who know him. That sure explains why we keep him in the group although he maintains his silence without exception. I greatly admire him myself. In fact, he’s been my best friend for as long as I can remember, and my memory is pretty impressive. Let’s call him “X” for the sake of convenience, for that pseudonym only seems natural. The others in the group are A, B, C, D, E and F. I am Jim.
We make plans to meet. X doesn’t confirm whether he’ll be there or not. His presence will be his confirmation. I look at the group conversation again. It is no longer a virtual conversation on my screen. My clique is sitting in our favourite café. We are still in our school uniforms. We skipped the last two periods, but nobody really cares much for the last two periods. We had to jump over the dilapidated wall separating the school library from the outer wall. This little bit of adventure has left our uniforms in a shabby condition. We all have a little dirt on us, except A. He’s covered in filth. The poor guy got tossed into a dustbin as a joke. He didn’t seem to mind though, that good natured bastard! That’s his thing. He could make you laugh at your own mother’s funeral.
X, being my best friend, is sitting in his rightful place beside me. A is sitting opposite to us. Comedic brilliance strikes him and the beginning of a joke starts playing on his lips stretched ear to ear in smugness. He bites down on his lower lips to prevent his hyena like cackle from escaping before he delivers the punch line. The punch line is delivered. B, our darling tomboy, snorts almost immediately, leading the raucous laughter that ensues. X smiles at A. I remark on B’s snort which causes her to roll her eyes and sigh in mock annoyance. The laughter doubles. X and I exchange a look of understanding and he flashes me his trademark winning grin. E, the one who usually finances our exploits goes on a tirade about some fashion trend some French fashion label is trying to revive. She goes on for a few minutes. The only person who seems to be remotely interested is C, her best friend. C looks at E as E goes on speaking. I look at X. He’s looking out the window. Anyone outside our group would have said he was daydreaming, that he was simply not there. I knew for a fact that he was listening and at a later time he would be able to reproduce E’s speech with accuracy than C could. After ten minutes of this A decides that he’s had enough. “Really?!” he enquires of E, his tone drenched in sarcasm. E directs an insulting joke at him, but it falls flat. A lets out a sarcastic laugh which in turn evokes genuine laughter from us.
The conversation somehow shifts to local politics. With D around, it always does. Short and dangerously skinny, D focuses on making his mind his weapon. It’s pretty formidable too. The guy wins every debate, every quiz he takes part in. He almost cracks a joke about Maoists. Almost. He doesn’t actually say it out loud but we all know what he was about to say. There’s an awkward silence. F’s grandfather had Maoist connections and it’s always been somewhat a sensitive topic. F shrugs it off though. He’s not bothered. He doesn’t look bothered, at least.
E flips her phone out and we collectively sigh. She shows us an embarrassing picture of that one girl in our class who keeps to herself. I have to admit, it was quite funny. There a snigger all around the table. X is smiling tentatively. From what I know about him, he probably wanted to tell us to leave her alone. He didn’t say it. He knew we weren’t actually being mean or trying to be hurtful.
The time to depart comes. We decide to split the bill. X’s share is sitting on the table in front of a vacant seat. He’s the Batman of ungracious exits.
We leave. I find him smoking a cigarette outside, leaning against a moss covered wall. The moss doesn’t really seem to bother him. He offers me the cigarette. I deny at first but then take a drag. Some of the smoke gets into my eyes and I wipe the tears off my cheeks. He calls me a child. Proving him right, I flip the bird. I suppose we are all allowed to be juvenile every now and then. “I’m feeling like a little Chinese right now. I know a nice place. What do you say?” he asks me.
“Sorry, I don’t shit money.” I say.
“That’s a damn shame.”
I double over in laughter. I could say the same thing and it wouldn’t be remotely funny. It’s just the way he says it. I could rehearse in front of a mirror for hours and fail to imitate him perfectly.
“Tomorrow evening?” I ask.