In blistering Nebraska, it was America’s Independence Day. As usual on every Independence Day since I was five years old, George and Terry, my two best friends, and I, went on a manly picnic. I diligently carried out my household chores, packed my picnic bag and off I went to collect my friends by way of bicycle. It is going to be an awesome day, I thought to myself as I sped down my neighborhood street on my beat-up blue Schwinn.
George and I were born on the same day, March 14th, 1984. His father and my father were best friends from their days at King James High School. Their story is much like an old-fashioned novel or film about two lifelong best friends. They joined the U.S. Marines and both got married the same year. Intriguingly, they had their firstborns in the same year as well. As fate would have it, George and I became close friends. I did not have a sibling, and George became a sort of twin brother to me. We saw each other almost daily, involving ourselves in our selfsame talent: soccer. We both enjoyed defending against oncoming strikers – standing against the opposition with a tough tooth. Besides these similarities, George had a large heart and would go out of his way to help me in situations that called for aid.
Most years, we held our Independence Day picnic by the Sequin River’s calm sound and sight. It was three quarters of a mile west of my apartment. As the three of us rode noisily past plain suburban houses on our bicycles, mostly due to the rickety nature of our mechanical companions, fireworks exploded loudly in the clear sky behind us.
By the river, we played soccer on the bumpy grass field, swam and caught a fish – a tiny and bony catfish. After having a late lunch of mixed berries, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, we sat down on the cushion-like grass surrounding the river and talked and laughed loudly at boyish jokes. Then out of the blue, George glared at me.
“Promise we will always be best friends; that we will be exactly like our dads?” he earnestly pleaded with me. I cannot explain why, but a chill rushed down my spine. I had never seen George that serious before.
“I promise,” I mumbled, barely audible.
It was almost dark and we had to blitz home so that our parents wouldn’t get worried. Terry’s residence was the nearest from the river. He shouted goodnight as he shot into the rubble-like parking lot of his residence. We continued down shadowy Harrison Street. Next was George to leave the group.
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“Remember your promise!” he shouted as we turned to enter his family’s compound down an opposing street.
Those words haunt me to this day. Out of nowhere, a yellow Mustang rambled around the corner and headed straight for us.
“George!” I cried out as I swerved to avoid the oncoming car.
I heard the skidding of tires and a loud dinging sound. I was in a daze. People were screaming and running towards where the car had stopped. I had passed out. When I came to, I saw George’s mother holding a bloody, limp body, weeping hysterically. The reality of the situation hit me like a thunderbolt. Inexplicably, my legs became weak. The sky above started spinning wildly. I felt like a massive wind had lifted me up; I was swimming in the air. Then the wind ceased and I fell down with a thud. When I regained consciousness again, I was in my bed. Mum was sitting beside me, and I could see she had been crying.
“Why him?” I asked her. She just cried, and I cried too.
The death of my best friend made me sullen, bitter and inconsolable. How could God take him away so soon? There were so many unscrupulous people around, but God chose to take George. Life was never going to be the same again without him. A million friends could never replace him, or even one million angels, I thought. Then one evening, I was sitting with my mother after some tea, and I asked her, “Mum, does God love us? If He does, why does He hurt us?” With loving, teary eyes she peered into my eyes and said, “God loves us so much, son. He takes the righteous when they are still young, before the world can hurt them, and makes them angels.”
I feel George next to me, following whichever path I choose. He was the most faithful of friends – he is my angel now.