This is a story of my best friend and neighbor. He is 74 years old now, if I can remember it correctly. This morning I was calling my mom and she said he is nearby and wanted to meet me. No sooner did he take the receiver than he began to laugh heartily as he spoke, “Owe khotsa phaw phaw zakpa ma phi na…” and continued laughing. I was waiting for his laugh to cease when the line was interrupted. I know, even as I write this, he is still laughing.
I’ve always envied the way he could laugh. He has this special gift of laughing. He would take in the huge gulp of air, stretch the muscles over his wrinkled face towards the ear, expose bit of his doma tainted tooth and then laugh out until his lung run short of air. I’ve wished, if only every man on the earth can laugh like him.
I‘ve never cared to ask his real name. He was known more as Meymey Phawphaw among the children. I was no adult then. My parents used to smile understandingly at each other, every time I mentioned the word “Meymey Phawphaw”. I thought they liked it. So I used to compose a song and sing to them:
Meymey phawphaw yusung khuwa sa khorey,
Abi phawphaw rokthey gi buwa sa khorey.
I would sing this all day long until my mother shot a cold angry look on me.
He used to visit our house frequently. He would say my mother makes the best ara in the village. My mother was always flattered. What she didn’t know was that he said this to every household he went to drink ara. But he had a small sugarcane garden in front of his house and two big mango trees in the backyard that gave a big yellow fruits in the summer. So there was no reason I shouldn’t be his friend. As the time went by, he had grown very fond of me and I found myself feeling close to this old man. He would make bow and arrow for me and together we used to go to play in the open field below our house. He would teach me how to play damnyen and make me sing shonna shona hang shona…. . In turn I would teach him how to play carom board. “Songo gatpu gisho othen philey ani”, he used to say every time he scored in the pocket.
Unlike most of the other old people, he would never tell the fairytales. He used to talk about how brave he was as a young in the army. He would tell me how successful he was in seducing women. He asked me once if I’ve ever slept with girls. “Only two”, I lied. He laughed out loud and said, “When I was 16 years old as you, I’ve slept with seven women from Yurung and two from Chimung and Chongshing Borang each.” He is from Yurung in Pema Gatshel. Then suddenly he became unusually serious and spoke in lowered voice, “Tha gotcho khotsa, oma lona zemu ga phawphaw philey lamey. Yamlang zasu phaw phaw dasery philey kheley. Dakpa kam pecha sho tsa degni lampey kheyley na”. It was then I realized the meaning of Phawphaw and the reason why my loving mom would give me that cold angry look.
I completed my Higher Secondary and was going abroad for further studies. When I told him this he gently stroked his gray beard and sighed, “Don’t become a bad boy”. I understood his definition of bad boy. He must have heard about the students going abroad and getting into drugs. Getting into fight and being killed or never returning home. He suggested me why I don't represent our constituency in the upcoming election that he and the whole village folk would have full support on me. It was funny but I wouldn’t laugh at my friend’s innocence. I explained him about the requirement of minimum degree certificate to join politics.
A night before I left, I went to see him but he wasn’t at home. His abi told me he went to Yurung to visit his one and only grandson from his previous wife on Tuesday last week. That was the day after I told him I was leaving abroad for further study.