It was May 2013. Reza and I were discussing various international issues for the upcoming debate competition in UIN Sunan Gunung Djati Bandung, while Imam was just being idle listening to our chit-chats next to us. I barely knew both of them because they just got enrolled the previous year. However, it did not take a long time for us to get along with each other.
The library that afternoon was a bit quiet, and Imam was not feeling well. I kept asking him whether he should lay down or take a gulp of mineral, but he said he was just fine. No one is fine when they say they are, right? So I though he was suggesting to himself, while I knew deep down, he was not. As the competition day was getting closer, only little did we rehearse, but I had nothing to lose.
In a nutshell, we got the second best winner, losing over Telkom University Bandung. The day was long, just like a typical debate competition day I’ve joined before, and the chance of feeling chipped away was twice as likely to occur. However, Imam filled the rest of that arduous day with his sheer jokes, while Reza directly occupied himself by fiddling with his smartphone alone. By then, I saw that Imam would never see his friends knocked down by a heavy situation.
Until finally, he was the one who got knocked down.
In the middle of 2014, he started to skip classes, and I became not the only one noticing. People began to throw comments on Imam avoiding their friends because of some “error” that he did in his freshman year, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, so I confronted him already. Everytime I sat him down, we mostly exchanged stories, particularly our daily activities or what kept ourselves busy at the moment, never a subject that would let him down, so I didn’t. Our last talk concerned about him working part-time in a chemistry laboratory, making medicines and stuff. I just listened, and listened, sometimes with a short “oh” or a sharp nod of confirmation.
Until one time, I met him at a library wearing a kind of long scarf around his head. I was excited because it was our first time catching up with each other after that talk. He showed me a video of a person having an operation of a sinus infection. It was truly…disgusting. On screen, the camera, edged on the tip of the needle or the equipment to draw the “meat” inside the nose, was inserted into that person’s nostril, slithering through a flock of thin mucus before it clicked on some wet gel-like stuff and dragged it outwards. I did not understand him showing me that video; one thing I knew was he seemed to have difficulty breathing properly.
The next days, he disappeared completely. After a number of my occupied days, he texted me, asking me to talk to his professors on certain subjects that semester and made them compensate him being ill. I thought OK and did it immediately.
Few months before he passed away, he LINE-d me, asking me to come by to his house in Rancaekek. I kept making promises that I would indeed do that, but I never did. However, I had no regrets because I knew he would always welcome me whenever I wanted to visit.
I would imagine him standing on the front door with his cheerio smile and directing me to the TV room, right before introducing me to his loving mom and beautiful sisters (or nieces?). He would offer me fruits, as he had offered me many other things before, and conversated with me without noticing the time pass by.
Imam never spoke to me about his mistake, as other people with whom we share friends told me, but we all make mistakes. We err. And we can blame only ourselves. Imam, in fact, has taught me that we shall not shape our characteristics depending on the judgments from other people, and that self-pity destroys us.
I will always remember his sense of humor, and how he “femininely” gestured as he blew jokes here and there, which made him even funnier. I will also remember his optimistic nature. That he would be a prominent linguist. That he would bring along his parents to Mecca one day. That he would be a better person in the world and the afterworld.
My best prayers lurk within you, Mam. You were a big speck of dust, dancing in the storm.