If any student at Howard College between the years 2003 and 2007 was asked a question about a guy named Waseem Ahmed, they almost always would not be able to answer without mentioning Aasia Sami. That is how inseparable the pair were. Where Aasia went, Waseem followed and it worked the other way around too.
It’s not like they became the best of friends straight after they met. No, it took weeks of Waseem teasing Aasia and inviting her to hang out with his friends. It took weeks of Aasia talking Waseem into actually attending his lectures instead of blowing them off, as he usually did. Weeks turned into months and by the end of their first year, the duo were best buddies.
Waseem’s friends were shocked, to say the least. Aasia was the last person they expected to strike up a friendship with. She was the complete opposite of what they collectively stood for as a group. Laid back, at ease and known as one of the cooler crowds at campus, they never anticipated that they or Waseem would befriend Aasia.
But they did, and when their second year rolled around, Aasia found herself having a very different experience compared to the year before. Nobody stared at her as if she were the walking dead. Nobody snickered at her choice of clothes. People went about their own business and she could finally try to enjoy her university life, knowing that she was no longer known as the campus freak.
“You’re welcome,” Waseem told Aasia a few weeks into the new year.
“For what?” She asked.
“Thanks to me, you’re a far cry from the Aasia of first year.” He wiggled his eyebrows and she rolled her eyes.
“Please, stow your ego before your head blows up to be the size of Mars.”
Waseem’s lips turned up in amusement. “Mars?”
“Okay, Miss Journalist. My ego is stowed. Come on, they’re waiting for us.”
The pair jogged across the university parking lot to their group of friends who stood waiting, annoyed expressions on their faces.
“Well, it’s about time! Get in so we can go!”
Amaan Amra was known as the ringleader. He kept everyone together. With charisma flowing out of his fingertips and with the friendliest personality on campus, he was liked by all. He was also Waseem’s best friend. They grew up together, went to the same high school and now studied at the same university.
The crowd scattered themselves into three cars and soon, they were on the road.
“Now will you tell me where we’re going?” Aasia asked, looking over at the driver who remained tight-lipped. “I could just ask someone else you know.”
“And ruin the surprise? Now, why would you want to spoil the fun like that!” Waseem shot Aasia a smirk, but she shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“And that’s why we’re best friends.”
The group rode on for another hour until they arrived at their destination: The Valley of a 1000 Hills. With a breathtaking view of endless greenery and a collection of quaint cafes close-by, it was the perfect road trip destination for the group of friends to visit, as they celebrated the beginning of a new academic year.
Someone was in charge of bringing food. Another had brought a mat. A few more people brought chairs and within minutes, they had set up their very own picnic. Everyone settled down and dug into the feast, which consisted of home-made sandwiches, savouries and packets of chips, everyone except Aasia. She remained rooted to the spot, unable to tear her gaze away from the view.
“Hello. Earth to Aasia.” Waseem said as he waved a hand in front of her face.
“Huh. What?” Aasia asked as she focused her attention on the curly-haired guy standing next to her.
“Why are you still standing here? Everyone’s over there. Come on.”
She followed Waseem and joined the group. Someone thrust a chicken and mayo sandwich into her hand before she could protest, but she was slow to register what was happening. Waseem noticed and eyed Aasia peculiarly. She had been unusually quiet since they arrived, considering she had talked non stop the entire ride there. He nodded his head at her as if to ask what was wrong. She smiled and shook her head, as she bit into her sandwich, turning her gaze away from him.
Something was up, Waseem thought, and he wanted to know what it was. So when the group decided, post-picnic, that they wanted to explore the valley, Waseem wasted no time in pairing up with Aasia. He always found that away from everyone else, she was more relaxed, more willing to talk.
“What gives?” Waseem asked ten minutes later when he and Aasia had wandered away from the group on a path of their own.
She shrugged her shoulders and let out a loud huff.
“Come on Aasia. You can’t-fool me. What’s wrong?” His eyes searched hers. This was not the first time she had been distant and withdrawn. She clammed up whenever conversations around her got difficult, and by difficult that meant any conversation that revolved around parents. The topic of parents was a sore subject with Aasia and Waseem knew that. What he couldn’t understand was that the elder generation had not once been mentioned that afternoon, so why had Aasia clammed up?
“It’s nothing Waseem.”
“If it was nothing you wouldn’t have been so quiet.”
“You’re too observant.”
“And you’re evading my question.”
She narrowed her eyes at him and folded her arms protectively over her chest. Opening her mouth to speak, she closed it just as quickly and turned her head towards the valleys. She took a deep breath in and shut her eyes. For a moment, there was complete silence until she heard Waseem’s footsteps.
“You’re ruining the silence.” She quipped, her eyes still closed.
He laughed and shook his head in disbelief. “And since when are you a fan of silence?”
“Since always. It’s just that ever since you barged into my life, I haven’t gotten much of it.”
It was Waseem’s turn to narrow his eyes at her. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong or not?” He asked, his tone serious and to the point.
“Are you going to drop this?”
He shook his head. Aasia should have known. Waseem was stubborn and his concern knew no limits. It was an annoying habit he had, to nag the truth out of her whenever she seemed the slightest bit closed off.
“Answer this, how many times have you been here?” Her question caught Waseem off guard and he furrowed his brows.
“More times than I can count. Why?”
Aasia shot him a sad smile before admitting what had been on her mind ever since she got to the valley an hour ago. “I have never been here. I’ve lived in Durban all my life and I have never been here.”
“So what?” Waseem asked. “It’s just a place with a nice view.”
Aasia shook her head. “You don’t get it. It’s not about the view. I’ve never been on a family picnic or a family outing. My parents- well, you know what they’re like. Everyone has these childhood memories of what it was like coming here, and I have nothing.”
“That’s not true Aasia-”
“But it is. I know this all sounds silly but- I just hear about everyone else’s childhood and I think about how much I missed out on.” Aasia’s face crumpled and her voice lowered to a whisper. “I would never want my child to grow up the way I did.”
She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. She was never one to express emotion so candidly, but the trip to the valley had brought about unexpected feelings. Realising the reason for his friend’s unhappiness, Waseem felt guilty. He was responsible for dragging Aasia onto the trip. She had wanted to go to her lecture, but he convinced her to skip with the promise of an experience she wouldn’t forget.
And there they were, on an unforgettable trip, unforgettable for the wrong reasons. Waseem didn’t want Aasia to think about the valley as the place she had a mini-meltdown in. He wanted her to have memories that would make her look back at her university years and say, “Those were the best years of my life.”
“Come here.” He said and placed a firm hand on her shoulder. “So what if you didn’t come here when you were a kid? You’re here now, with us. And this is definitely not the last time we’ll be in the valley. You’ll be sick and tired of this place in no time!”
Aasia let out a low laugh. Maybe Waseem had grown tired of the valley, but she couldn’t for a moment think of tiring from the breathtaking view. It was so open, so free, so endless. Taking a deep breath, she shook away her problems and assured her best friend that she was feeling much better. Together, they took a scenic walk.
At every point, every turn, every step, Aasia gasped at how beautiful the view was while Waseem just shook his head. It was strange to see her in a carefree manner. She was always so wound up, so stressed out with campus and her family life, that seeing her for what she truly was, a nineteen-year-old student like any other with dreams and ambitions, changed Waseem’s perception of her. It was as if the more time he spent with Aasia, the more layers he peeled back. And the more layers he peeled back, the more he learned.
She was not a rock and roll lover, as her backpack would suggest.
She was not uptight and snobbish, as her parents would suggest.
She was not all brains and no beauty, as her attitude towards university would suggest.
Aasia was so many things at once and Waseem was realising that even if he didn’t mean to, he was falling for his best friend.
Okay, even I can admit the ending of this was ridiculously cheesy. But I didn’t know how else to end it, so you guys will just have to accept this post for what it is: cheesy cheesy cheesy.
But I hope you liked it!
I can’t actually remember the last time I went to The Valley of a 1000 Hills, but writing this post has made me nostalgic, and now I want to go there and take scenic walks and have scones!
Oh well, maybe on my next trip to Durban…
Have a wonderful Sunday all!
P.S. I know The Sound of Music has nothing to do with this chapter, but I just had to include the gif!