Sunday, August 17, 2008

Keep smiling a never ending hope…

Five years ago today I was chatting with my great friend Mahmoud. At that time he was at the intensive care unit at one of the famous hospitals in Amman (Jordan). Mahmoud was having his chemotherapy treatment for leukemia and because he was left with extremely low immunity following this treatment he was vulnerable to the most harmless microbes by our standard. Mahmoud had to spend weeks in a special room where people could only visit him wearing what I would call aeorospace gear or CDC suits. But Mahmoud had a laptop and internet connection and I could keep him company and even see him online. He had his mobile as well but we only used it briefly because it would tire him.

On that day we were talking about his progress and how much he felt better and was only waiting for his blood count to improve to be able to return to Tripoli. He was alone in Amman as usual. He has been going for his treatment there for two years and had finally beaten the monster. I was at the office and I was chuckling at the jokes he was cracking and marveling at his spirit. After all he kept the secret of his illness almost two years and only told me recently before this trip.

I knew Hamoudi from college, we were in the same year and the same study groups throughout the entire academic process because we were classified alphabetically and also by our ranking in class. We shared the same bench, courses, helped each other to study and do homework, and after we graduated we compared notes and met up regularly to catch up on each other. He would call me every time he was traveling abroad, and he would come and visit me upon his return always bringing chocolates and gifts. The only long periods when he did not call were the times he was having treatment before I knew about his battle with cancer. Never once did I hear him complain, never once utter a sigh. In his presence I had immense joy and calmness, and his eyes radiated warmth and sincerity. So we were chatting and as usual I was sending a lot of emoticons with smileys when he suddenly sent me a heart shape. Then he typed that the nurse is asking him to rest and that he will talk to me later. I said good bye and logged off.

About ten or fifteen minutes later Hamoudi sent me a text message "keep smiling ..always!"
I thought of ringing him up but the moment passed as I had a meeting so I rang him after the meeting, but his phone was not being picked up so I assumed it was on silent mode and rang him the next day.. but the next day his phone was closed so I assumed he was doing his usual silent treatment when he wanted to rest and not be disturbed. And I told myself he'll contact me when he comes back home or when he feels like it as usual.
I was thinking to myself that Mahmoud was a wonderful friend and his gentle behaviour and considerate actions let alone his longstanding friendship were not negligible and if he asked me to marry him as he had been hinting about for the last year and as mum was expecting from the stories I shared with her I would accept because he was someone you could trust to build a home with.

A few days later I was at a meeting outside my office and ran into another classmate Aisha. After the usual greetings she asked me:
- Highlander have you heard about Mahmoud?
- What about him I said? I was chatting with him a few days ago he's getting better and coming home soon.
- Oh I'm sorry H, she said, he had a cold and didn't make it..
I was awestruck ..when when did he die I uttered how can he die we were just talking and laughing a few days ago he even sent me a text message here see the date on my mobile! That's the date he died on Aisha said. Suddenly I felt my chest close and the tears welled up inside my eyes, have they brought him ? yes his brother did and they are burying him today in their village. Can we go and attend the burial are you going? who is going? Well his brother informed us and he said that the girls don't have to come because the village is very far and he knows it is difficult for you to drive alone. Do you have his phone number I said ? I want to talk to Hamoudi's brother and check with him are you sure he is dead maybe you are mistaken? Aisha told me she did not have the phone number but will try and locate it and will let me know.

When I went back to my office I was frantically calling our close classmates to ask them and yes most of the guys heard and were going to the burial. But I still could not believe it. Then an idea struck me, I will call Hamoudi's Libya cell phone and if someone else picks up then he is dead for sure. I rang the phone, after 3 rings a voice answered; it was similar to Hamoudi's but more subdued where Hamoudi's was full of laughter. "Hello I croaked my name is Highlande and I am Mahmoud's friend from university is the news true ? " I had a sinking feeling but I still hoped against any hopes until his brother Mohammed shattered my hopes… " yes miss H. Mahmoud has passed away… thank you for your condolences and please as I told all the other girls we do not expect you to be here please your phone call is enough…" but how I said ? It's God's will he replied he had a cold he went to lie down to rest and died in his sleep he was simply too weak..
I hung up the phone and cried and cried silently in my office. He had died alone just after he sent me the sms…and before logging off I had told him goodbye instead of the usual 'talk to you soon'. As if his soul and mine knew already… was he lonely? Did he hurt? Was he afraid ? what were his last thoughts?

It's been five years but his number is still programmed in my mobile I can’t delete it and his last message is there peering at me from time to time. When I feel the world crushing at my sides and the pain unbearable, I scroll way down to his message and read 'keep smiling …always'…even from beyond the grave his words have brought me hope and courage to continue the journey. Thank you Hamoudi you will never be forgotten.

Since we graduated I have lost six friends to cancer, while another five are in various stages of survival/remission. I have also lost one to a heart attack, and two to car accidents and I have one friend recovering from a stroke. The plight of my friends has brought something important to my attention the health situation in Libya, but that dear readers would be the subject of my upcoming post.


Gheriani said...

A very moving story, thank you for sharing.

Hannibal said...

Highlander that was really a very sad and heartbreaking story believe me I couldn't help crying cos I know what that means. May he rest in peace and with you I ask the Almighty the most Merciful and Clement to receive his soul in His Eternal Paradise.

Maya M said...

I am sorry for your friend. He has apparently been a man of great heart and spirit.

Libyan Warrior said...

Very heart wrenching post:(

Allah yarham Mahmoud and your other friends as well.

It is very difficult to keep a smile on one's face in times like these. How your friend managed to do it is beyond me.

enlightened spirit said...

I wept this morning while reading ,well written touching story, these stories keep reminding me, how this life is so hard to be lived ... but the good thing is that u r BLESSED, coz u had the opportuinity, to know such a great friend in ur life lihe Mahmoud, many people hadn't have this chance, and I always feel sorry for them, friends are one of the life treasure.

waiting for ur next post.

ibeebarbie said...

Salam Highlander,

As always your post are so heartfelt and passionate no matter the cause.

My thoughts go out to you and your dear friend Mahmoud. Precious----that's what life seems to be----precious. Hard for us to remember to stay focused and live in the moment as life seems to gobble us up in so many ways, but it's the precisou moments like the one you shared of Mahmoud that stay embedded in us forever, alhamdullilah.

Curt from Houston said...

Sorry for your loss Highlander. I lost a brother to cancer earlier this year so I have a good idea where you were at. Your friend sounds like he was a real class act and I believe the world is diminished with his passing. Take comfort in the fact that he was himself to the end and that your were on his mind.

Brave Heart said...

U R Great person as usual

Highlander said...

Seems I had forgotten to reply to this thread - apologies..

Gheriani, Thank you.

Hannibal, it's so good to see you here, I'm sorry I made you cry my friend.

Maya M, thanks Hamoudi indeed was a force of nature !

Libyan Warrior, knowing more about life now I can assure that some people really can do it the human spirit has vast capababilities for accepting adverse situations.

Enlightened spirit, again like I told Hannibal I'm so sorry you cried it was no my intention to make people cry, I was simply sharing Hamoudi's beautiful legacy to me. Indeed I have been blessed with some superior friends for which I am so grateful.

Ibeebarbie, thanks I had no idea I sounded so passionate...Life is indeed very precious because it is very short compared to eternity and because we only that short period to prepare for the next phase the afterlife. When we realise that it can be too late.

Curt thank you and again I am sorry for your loss I remember you told me about your brother earlier this year. I do take comfort that I was very much on Mahmoud's mind but I'm sad that I did not realise to what extent I was.

Brave Heart, thank you for the compliment, some people would surely disagree with you but I strive to be a good person for sure.