Illustration by Shenuka Corea

When Violence Turned into Friendship

Friendship is one of the most solid foundations of my life and it’s one I’d fight for, probably with a badminton racket.

Nov 26, 2016

In fourth grade, the excessively wealthy owners of my school decided they could afford to move their middle school section to a larger, more extravagant campus. The result of this well-intentioned move was an increase in the solidity of each individual classroom. This was partly because the old campus was a repurposed house and the few readjustments that had occurred failed to sufficiently increase the dimensions of the rooms, which meant that each section of our grade had very few students cramped together in a small classroom.
Before you think I’m going to paint a picture of a typical, dilapidated, third-world school, I’d like to remind you that this was only a makeshift campus until we moved to the bigger and better one. From having a backyard as a playground, we upgraded to not one but two proper playgrounds to play in. Ramshackle classrooms with old wooden furniture on the verge of breaking transformed into fancy new tables and chairs painted with bright colors to make them all the more attractive to our nine-year-old selves.
In this Cinderella-esque transformation, I faced only one problem … social isolation.
Dramatic ellipsis aside, I don’t want to plagiarize the artistic craft of Mean Girls by mimicking Cady Heron’s testing transition from Africa to an American high school. After all, I was only nine years old. However, my melodramatic rhetoric does not change the fact that it was hard for me to move in the middle of the school year to a different location. Everyone already knew each other and did not really find it necessary to befriend a scrawny, timid kid with pink spectacles her mother had picked out for her and an incessant need to agree with her teachers about every single thing.
One fine day with the sun shining its incandescent rays on one of the two playgrounds, our teacher let us out of the confines of our modern and sophisticated but suffocating classroom. Since I had no friends, I resorted to doing what any other sane nine-year-old individual would do: run around in circles.
In addition to having no friends, this was also the time when my eyesight had worsened and I was too scared to tell my parents because I thought my naturally obliterated vision was my fault. This is important because it meant I couldn’t see two girls playing badminton, which in turn resulted in me running around oblivious to the fast approaching danger that took the form of an overused badminton racket.
The confrontation between the racket and my nose was one-sided. They met at battle, the racket caught my nose off guard, my nose soon surrendered but at this point my mouth and eyes decided to ally with my nose and defend it resiliently. I screamed and my eyes darted around wildly to identify the commander of the racket. Already an insecure and irrational child, I was expecting this to be an intentional attack provoked by malice and spite, but to my surprise, my not-entirely-corrected-to-normal-eyes that found it difficult to focus fixed on a face with eyes full of concern, a mouth blasting out apologies the speed of a bullet and a reassuring arm grabbing hold of mine and directing me to the sickroom.
The possessor of this gentle concern, and the commander of the racket, was Alizeh Sethi. My nose survived the trauma and so did my heart. This owner-commander stayed with me in the sickroom while the nurse tended to my merely bruised nose and later walked to our classroom with me. During the walk back, she talked to me with the familiarity of a friend, something I had almost forgotten. She took a lively interest in me and as she was a comrade in terms of how nerdy she was, we instantly hit it off.
To my surprise and inner satisfaction, the following day she continued to be nice to me and talk to me about homework and all the other fun things we were interested in. Day after day the same routine continued until we were spending all our 20-minute breaks together. When my nose healed completely, I thought her guilt or pity would vanish with the bruise, but it did not. She was still the same Alizeh, worried about not having enough time to do both her homework and read the new Harry Potter book. The same brilliant Alizeh concocting ingenious ways to save time by reading whilst eating. The same Alizeh who decided to befriend me and end the curse of friendship celibacy that had befallen me.
Now, Alizeh had lots of friends and as she had taken a liking to me, she had been neglecting them. I’d like to believe she liked me enough to not want to give up my company entirely, so she started inviting her other friends to our daily 20-minute walks around the shaded playground. Before I knew it, I had been initiated into this wonderful group of people who were not normal, even if I had earlier thought them to be just that. These girls were intense; they worked hard and played hard in the way only fourth graders could. They weren’t just interested in studying, they also invented resourceful ways of having fun like jumping over bushes every single day. They decided to start a weekly newspaper for our class, tried to learn hypnosis even before they knew how to say Freud, created a secret gang to spy on other classmates called The SUPERB – but maybe that isn’t something I should brag about.
All of these girls welcomed me with arms wide open and it wasn’t just because they pitied me for not having any friends or because they sympathized with me after Alizeh attacked me. They actually liked me for my wit, humor and companionship. This was my first lesson in self confidence. These girls, who I am still friends with 10 years later, taught me the importance of trusting that you and your friendship are valuable and you have something to offer to the world.
Although in essence the experience was a violent one, it was my first exposure to true, lasting and dependable friendship. It’s not that we’ve ever had any other violent, life-changing experiences, because we haven’t. It’s the fact that we used that one experience and forged a bond stronger and far less destructive than the Unbreakable Vow in Harry Potter that counts.
The most important lesson I learned, however, was that a rich sense of self is never enough. Friendship is important, even if you choose to ignore it. Sometimes it takes an unexpected whack from a racket to come to all of these philosophical conclusions, but that’s a small price to pay for what I learned and what I gained. I can’t imagine my life without Alizeh and all the other friends she brought into my life and the truth is that I don’t want to. Friendship is one of the most solid foundations of my life and it’s one I’d fight for, probably with a badminton racket.
Rida Zafar is a contributing writer. Email her at
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