To live among people was to make connections with no name. The world of the living was made up of little hellos and greetings and roles we played in each others’ lives. The baristas who remain in cafés for years. The patrons who come and sit there for years. The regulars—who all smile at one another but seldom talk. It was the crux of civilisation, these bonds. In a world that keeps moving, all we wanted was to be remembered. To remember each other was a gift we gave each other, over and over.
It was why I made homes in cafés and bars or made friends with kids who stand near the same mall, trying to help them in all ways I can, to sometimes tell them I’m having a bad day already, that I’ll see them soon. I have said more goodbyes to baristas and bartenders than friends when I’ve left cities. It is always one of the most important things to do when I leave town. And what of the cab and auto-rickshaw drivers I ran into all the time? I wouldn’t give anything else over the conversations I’ve had with them. Sometimes, it’s small talk; automatic responses. How’s it going? Hanging in there, how are you? All good! Sometimes, we talked about things we’d not tell our closest friends. It was easier to confide in strangers on most days. It was a simple camaraderie but one of great value.
These friendships often ended without a sound—someone quit their job, someone left town, or someone passed away. Someone else tells you, “Remember that old man, the driver? He’s not here anymore.” You’re left wondering what must have happened, what must have changed; you remember the last time you saw them. You acknowledge how little you knew about each other, yet it was enough to share a laugh or two. You remember the old man’s voice. You remember he told you he had a son your age. There is nothing you can do about it. How do you grieve the loss of a stranger?