His name was Tahir and his ability was his disability. I only knew him for a few years in grades 4 to 7.

Freshly out of Junior Primary and thrown into Senior Primary, my classmates were impressionable and anxious. On the first day, my teacher introduced the new boy, Tahir, to the class. It wasn’t hard to see that he wasn’t like us. He was older and had shifty eyes. He also blinked uncontrollably and stuttered. It took a whole 20 seconds for him to get out his name and it was only two syllables. The kids laughed and my stomach felt as if it had been turned upside down. This was cruel, for it is much easier to tear someone down than build them up.

I gave him a reassuring nod and he sat next to me. We got to talking and soon became friends. He was an interesting boy with big ideas and a flare for improving the world. Tahir was crafty and could write effortlessly elegantly – which you wouldn’t say if you saw him. He had a lanky figure and could not sit still. It wasn’t his fault.

He wasn’t stupid, he just learned at a different pace and that was perfectly fine with Me, but not everyone saw it that way. They would whisper loudly about him: “Why is he even here?”

“He should be in a special school with his… kind.”

“He’s so creepy. I bet he lives on the street.”

“Can he never stay still?”

It would be a fool’s errand to assume he could not hear or, at the very least, guess what they were saying, but he never allowed it to deter him. He was a flower growing in the cracks of a pavement, fighting to blossom, but how could he when everyone around him seemed to be hail against his brittle petals?

It was the worst on speech day. We each had a turn to stand in front of the whole class and read a speech we had written. It took Tahir ages to get through his speech, but he took it in his stride. He always obliged when the teacher called him to the front. The kids would make fun of him even though the content of his speech was beautiful.

I blamed the teacher for putting him in front and subjecting him to this ridicule. I knew she was only doing her job, but couldn’t she make an exception? One day I told Tahir to ask the teacher to let him do his speech during break when everyone was out of class. He laughed and refused. He said he couldn’t do such a thing, especially when all he wanted was be treated equally. His morals were consistent. He couldn’t argue to be treated like everyone else but ask for exceptions.

“How can you be so optimistic when everyone’s so awful?” I asked him. I can still remember what he said: “They only make me stronger. I’m like Goku’s spirit bomb. I absorb their energy and grow.”

I always recite it to myself whenever I’m going through a hard time. Not just because I love Dragon Ball Z, but because it reminds me that every hardship we face will shape us and make us enduring. We’re all metaphorical spirit bombs and Tahir helped me see that.

I regret that I lost contact with him when he moved away and we went to separate high schools, but wherever he is, I have faith that he has now blossomed into a beautiful flower, no longer affected by the hail.