“They said I need to stay here for a year. Can you believe it’s been 9 months already. Another three and I’ll be going back to the UK” If Abdul knew what was in store for him, he wouldn’t have been looking so forward to going back to the UK.
“Why did they send you here for a year? That’s a bit random isn’t it?” I just didn’t, and still to this day don’t, understand why truant youngsters are sent ‘back home’ to live with a random uncle for a year.
“They said it’ll get me off drugs and all that innit. I started doing lines and stuff. Hanging with Raf and his boys bruv. They do a lot harder stuff than me. They proper G’s cuzzy”
Was he for real? He never spoke like that when we were at school. It’s only been three years and he’s become this rude boy. I remember when he used to be my best friend. Me him and Samad Ali. Ah, much simpler times they were.
“So, has it helped? Being out here? Have you stopped doing drugs?” I was curious to find out if it actually works “I guess it must have worked. How you going to get a hold of any of that stuff out in a village in the middle of nowhere”
The grin on his face told a different story though. “Cuzzy, the weed out here is on top yo! It’s some next level mixing they got going on here man. Not only can I get a hold of it, I’m shotting it too. Serious dollars to be made round these ends cuzzy. I’ve already spoke to Kamran from Preston. He was here a few weeks ago. We’re gonna start up a little operation when I get back. I’m gonna be rolling in it before you know it blud. Anyway, gotta shoot they got me on lockdown – need to be back or they’ll skin me. Shout me if you’re around tomorrow. Uncles going to a wedding in Karachi for two days. Laters” And he was off.
Note to self – if kids mess up, don’t send them ‘back home’ to live with a random uncle. Seems like it’s worse than prison up here. He came to get straightened out, but instead made a contact to make the transition from a customer to a retailer. Or was he thinking about wholesale? That Kamran guy is bad news. Although I’d never met him, I’d heard some seriously troubling stories about him. Apparently he has no issue with anything immoral. I heard once that his gang of thugs were responsible for more than half the drugs sold up north. Although Abdul was happy about this little business venture he’d lined up, I was seriously worried for him.
The following day, I had to go into the next town as they have better shopping facilities than the village I was staying in. So I thought I’ll ‘shout’ Abdul. I walked up the smelly path that lead to the dilapidated house his Uncle owned. The door swung open before I could knock. There stood a man as frail as the walls of the house. I said my Salams and asked if Abdul was home. After being interrogated for 10 minutes, he led me to the far corner of the house and knocked on the door. When Abdul opened the door, I was shocked and speechless. I’d seen many palaces on TV and some in real life too, but this room that Abdul opened the door to was far superior to any luxury accommodation I’d ever seen in my life. The room must have been 30 ft squared, a 50in TV hung on the far wall, the floor was marble, the four pillar bed must have been worth more than the house it was in, the wall to wall wardrobe was solid oak, the wall behind the bed was mirrored end to end.
“Such grandeur and you forgot to install a ceiling fan” I joked as I greeted him.
He pressed a button on a remote control device that he grabbed off the bed and part of the mirror from the panel directly above the bed slid down and there appeared what looked like a state of the art air conditioning machine.
“This is how we roll here cuzzy. No need for those cheap crappy fans.” He said with a big grin. It’s the first time I’d noticed his teeth. They were all yellow except the three that he’d replaced with gold ones. His smile faded as he went on “they know what I’ve been up to man, they said I have to stay for another year. What’s that all about? I had big things planned for this summer. I’ll just have to look into getting something started here. It’s not right man – would I be better off killing myself..!!!”
“Listen, don’t talk silly things, I’m going down town for a bit, come with me - keep me company. It’ll get your mind off things” I offered.
“Yeah, uncles out until tomorrow, so I’m a free man until then – let’s go”
And we were off. We played a few games while we were in town. The most enjoyable one was pretending we’re there to buy a number of suites for an upcoming wedding. Seeing the stock, being offered complimentary drinks, finishing the drink and moving onto the next store to do the same again. After about 12 drinks we decided to stop that. I walked past a bakery that had a really nice cake on display in the window. I went in and asked how much it was.
After telling me the price, the baker said that it’s made to order and I’ll need to make full payment now and pick up the cake on the following morning. I agreed as the cake looked worth it. Took my receipt and went back to Abdul who had attracted the attention of three thuggish looking blokes. As he saw me approaching he quickly put something in his pocket and waved goodbye to the guys “All done? Where’s the cake?” A weak attempt to divert my attention from what I had just witnessed, but I’m not really in a habit of asking questions that I don’t really want to know the answer to so I just let it go.
“I’m picking it up tomorrow. They said they make them to order.” I said and we went off to play a couple of games of snooker before returning to our village.
The next day as I was about to set off to pick up the cake, I stopped outside Abduls house. I had a battle going on inside me. Should I take him with me? What was it that he’d brought from those guys. Was he getting himself in too deep? Was he starting to bulk buy here? He was going to smuggle it to the UK. If I take him, he’ll meet them guys again and that’s not right. I can’t stop him when he’s there, but I CAN not take him. At least that way I’m helping him in my limited little way.
So I went on my own, picked up the cake and came straight back. As I was driving up the road toward the centre of the village, I noticed something odd. No oncoming cars, people all walking in the same direction as I’m driving. ‘What’s going on’ I thought to myself. I saw the lady who lives next door to the place where I was staying so I stopped the car and offered her a lift.
“Don’t worry about me, I’ll walk on. You should go follow the crowd, find out what’s going on. Unlikely, but there might be someone famous in town.”
Ok - so I did. I followed them. The stream of people was never ending. They went past the turning for my place, past the turning for Abduls place, past the shops and down towards the river.
At the point where the stream of people turned into a huddle, I parked up and locked the car. The atmosphere was eerie. I walked up through the crowd. “they’d just gone for a swim” someone was saying “Aftab, the really good swimmer, was with them too. It happened just as Aftab stepped away for a second”
Oh dear lord – I don’t want to be here watching all this. Especially not all alone. Maybe I should go get Abdul, his house is only over there, I can cut through the field and be back in 5 mins. At least I won’t have to watch this on my own. They’ll be pulling the corpse out of the water in a minute. I was snapped out of my daze by a man shaking me. “You were with him yesterday, you know him. I saw you two together. Where does he live?”
Who is he talking about? what’s going on? Why are they carrying Abdul like that? All wet? All blue in the face? Can someone please tell me what’s going on?
“You were with the drowned boy yesterday. You know who he is. Tell us so can let his family know what’s happened” The same man. A sense of panic combined with urgency in his voice.
I still couldn’t understand how Abdul was there, I hadn’t even cut through the field to go and get him. How did he come here? Why is he all wet and blue? None of this is making any sense.
Then the man held me, looked me straight in the eye and said “this is your friend, he was swimming, he drowned just as the good swimmer from their group stepped out of the water. He didn’t stand a chance really. The under current is too strong at this time of the year. We need to tell his family. Which house does he live in?”
It had hit me, I knew what had happened. I was looking in the direction of his house, pointing, crying, but unable to speak.
If I had called for him that morning, all this would have been avoided.
If his family had put him in therapy in the UK all this would have been avoided.
If they had not dictated that he must stay another year, all this would have been avoided.
There is so much I could have done for him, but I didn’t. I could have stopped this from happening.
I was uttering these words when I opened my eyes. I was back at home. My cousin was looking over me. And he said “No. None of this could have been avoided. Today was his time. If you took him, he would still have died, maybe in a car crash while you were driving and they would have blamed you. Maybe he would have had a heart attack. Who know? Either way, today was his day. Don’t beat yourself up over this.”
Although I know my cousin is right, that day WAS Abduls time to go… or was it? What if it wasn’t an accident. He had mentioned half-jokingly that he might take his own life. What if he was genuinely sick of it all and decided to do it. I could have talked him out of it. If only I took him with me that morning. If only I spoke to him about things. I could have mentioned it to someone, anyone…
I was 17 at the time and it still brings a tear to my eye when I think about it. I know it’s happened and nothing can be done to change it now, but I do still wonder what could have been if I’d taken him with me that morning.